Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shank You Very Much

Often, when people think of the holidays, for some reason chestnuts come to mind. Other than hearing of them in Christmas carols, they weren't apart of any holiday festivities that I can remember when I was growing up, and it wasn't until moving to NYC that I recall ever smelling roasted chestnuts (and even then it wasn't an open fire under a mantel but a hotdog truck, and it was more of a charring than a roast). Being raised there, my wife has fond childhood memories of them, but the allure had eluded me.

That's why when I came across a bin of fresh chestnuts, I had to use them.

If you ever have the chance to roast and peel your own chestnuts, don't, and find someone else to do them for you, like the nut stand outside of Uwajimaya or at the restaurant of some over-achieving chef. They must be scored with a knife so that they don't explode (!!!) in your oven and to allow you to pull off the outer shell and inner skin. On a nut-by-nut basis they are relatively easy to peel if they are not over/undercooked, but after about ten nuts and twenty minutes your fingers start to get sore, leading me to believe that it is impossible to get "full" on chestnuts (or pistachios, for that matter).

Once inside you get a large, delicately flavored nut that is lightly sweet. Since the texture is a bit crumbly I initially thought of pureeing them as a filling for ravioli, but then decided to introduce some German heritage and use them as the base for spaetzle instead, which I sauteed in brown butter to accentuate its nuttiness and served as the main foundation for the meat component of the dish: a lamb shank.

'Tis the season to feature succulently braised dishes that define the idea of comfort food with hearty warmth and a rich sauce that can only truly be obtained by cooking meat that is still on the bone. It is the best of both worlds because the bone provides the flavor while the meat soaks it back up! For the lamb shanks, I seared them in oil at a very high heat to form a beautiful brown crust that helps develop the flavor, then I added caramelized onions and carrots, vegetable stock and beef stock to mellow the gamy flavor that lamb tends to have, tomatoes, herbs and red wine. I simmered the whole lot slowly and tended to it like a loving father until the meat was perfectly tender. Once strained the cooking liquid was reduced and thickened with a deep red roux reminiscent of one used in a great gumbo.

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This week's cocktail involves an ingredient that is usually a substitution for alcohol, not an accompaniment: Martinelli's Sparkling Cider.

Although I do remember drinking Martinelli's in place of champagne to toast the new year as a child, my most recent memory is when it was served after successful performances by my mother-in-law's music group, Continuum. The sweet effervescence and tart apple flavor is a true balance by itself, but I couldn't help giving it a twirl.

I like the combination of apple and cranberry so I opted for a Cape Cod style cocktail with cranberry juice, Skyy vodka and finished it with the Martinelli's cider to tickle the palate. It goes down so smooth it's like taking a breath of fresh air!

With Love,