I recently learned a valuable lesson in the kitchen after serving a horrible meal to some hungry friends: Be prepared.
Class began last week when I brought some lamb shanks home from the Boulder Farmers' Market, despite having no idea what to do with them. Some friends were coming over for dinner the following night, and I planned to braise the shanks. The results were a chewy, stringy, bland mess. I needed to cook the shanks for at least five hours, instead of the two hours I had allotted before dinner.
The next day, determined to make amends, I headed to Oliver's Meat Market, on East Sixth Avenue, to grab some more lamb -- and some expert advice.
Oliver's is a family-owned, real-deal butcher shop and deli that's been in business since 1923. I'd never been there and was looking forward to checking it out. I called ahead to see if it carried lamb, which it does, and to find out if it was local, which it is. In fact, I was pleased to hear that many of the meats Oliver's carries are from Colorado. On the way there, I decided to make lamb curry for dinner that night. I love curry, and I've always wanted to make it for myself. I figured cooking with lamb was the perfect opportunity to do so, being that curry is a natural habitat for the gamey meat.
The folks behind the counter at Oliver's were extremely helpful and friendly. When I told them about my intentions, they recommended I use the shoulder of the lamb, a cut that's easier to cook than the shank, but still has enough connective tissue to require a braise. The low-and-slow cooking method breaks down the tissue, making the meat tender and tasty. They conveniently cubed it for me and wished me luck.
I stopped by the liquor store on the way home to pick up a beer to go with the curry, and while browsing through the selection, the Juju ginger beer from Lefthand Brewing caught my eye. It's a seasonal pale ale brewed with ginger, and I thought it would pair well with a spicy curry. Once I got home and did some brief research on curries, I found that the recipes vary, mainly in the spices. In order to keep things simple, I stuck with what I had in the kitchen and threw together a spicy ginger lamb curry.
The meal turned out well, and I was successful in redeeming my past efforts; my friends couldn't get enough of it. The lamb was tender and juicy and the broth was silky and subtly spiced. The heat from the chili peppers was deep in the background while the ginger lingered pleasantly in the foreground. The ginger beer was just the right pairing for the meal -- refreshingly crisp and bright with fruity hops. And it quenched the heat.
Here's the recipe:
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1 1/2 pound of lamb shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes 1 1/2 onion, finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced 2 dried Thai chili peppers, finely chopped 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder 1 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed 1 teaspoon smoked paprika 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 bell peppers chopped into 1-inch pieces 4 cups chicken broth 1 cup of plain yogurt (Noosa from Colorado is the bomb) kosher salt Fresh ground pepper 3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Season lamb liberally with kosher salt and pepper. 2. Heat olive oil in a large pot and add lamb. 3. Cook the lamb on high heat for 5 minutes or so, or until golden brown. Remove lamb and set aside. 4. Add the onions to the lamb fat, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits from the pan. 5. Add garlic and sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until onions are soft. 6. Add lamb, ginger and spices and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. 7. Add bell pepper and chilies and cook until peppers begins to soften. 8. Add stock and bring to a boil. 9. Cover, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for an hour. 10. Remove from heat and slowly stir in the yogurt, adding about a tablespoon at a time. 11. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over rice.