WND – Becoming My Mother & the Promised Lamb

October 23, 2008

I had a mildly horrifying realization the other day.  I’m becoming my mother.

No offense to my mother, who is a charming and lovely lady of whom I’m quite fond, but I feel emphatically that I’m too young to turn into her.  Not the least of which because it means I’m that much closer to an unhealthy obsession with the temperature of my freezer.

Let me elaborate.  My grandmother wouldn’t let you put things in the freezer unless it had made ice because, “it wouldn’t be cold enough”.  My mother – proving that’s genetic and doesn’t skip generations – won’t keep ice packs in the freezer because, “it makes it too cold.”  I’m a little afraid to ask my aunt her opinions on the temperature of the freezer.

So far I have yet to get really invested in the temperature of my freezer, and I am not quite as far gone as my mother is when it comes to shopping.  She actually goes to five or six different places to get the exact products that she wants.  She has time to do this because she’s retired, and also a lot pickier than I am, although clearly I’m getting pickier.

I get my dry goods – cat food, fizzy water, cereal – from my local Stop-n-Shop.  I have my dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and the world’s best fresh pasta delivered weekly by the nice folks at In Season*.  As an aside, I have to say that milk in glass bottles does not get old.  If I still need something I’ll stop by the farmer’s market mid week, or as was the case this week I’ll go down to Whole Foods for a special cut of meat.

I want to know when I became the kind of person who shops in three different places to get her groceries, and gets a little twitchy at the idea of milk from the grocery store, and eggs whose provenance I can’t trace to a specific flock of hens.  And does this mean that I can no longer feel superior to the earthy crunchy people who shop at Whole Foods?   Or, do I have to accept that I am a little earthy crunchy, but at least I’m supporting local farmers while I do it?

* Really, the nicest people run this business.  I’d forgotten what it was like to deal with businesses run by actual people instead of corporations.  People who will accommodate the fact that you have to leave for work by 7:30 and will therefore make sure that your groceries are there before you leave for work.  People who will rescue you when you build a grocery list and then forget to actually order it, by stopping by your house later in the week with what was on your list that they have in stock.  It’s such a nice change from dealing with a large corporation where the only way to get something done is to be the biggest pain in the ass that you can be – comment not at all inspired to my recent dealings with AT&T (no relation at all).  If this sounds like a shill for In Season, well I like having my milk and eggs delivered to me and I’d like to see them stick around.

Braised Lamb in Pomegranate Sauce
Couscous Bread

Braised Lamb in Pomegranate Sauce

(serves 8-10 – I used a 3.75lb shoulder and served 6)

In answer to everyone who has raised their eyebrows at me this week in amusement: Yes, I’m having a little pomegranate renaissance.  I like pomegranates.  They’re fun to look at, and they taste a little like grape juice but without the cloying flavor.  Pictures and words don’t do justice to just how good this smells while it’s cooking.  Wine, pomegranate juice and lamb are possibly my new favorite flavor combination.

I trekked down to Whole Foods for my lamb this time, cursing the parking lot the entire way (because whatever else I may say, the real reason I hate going to Whole Foods is because the parking lot is a nightmare), and dithered for a good 15 minutes while the man behind the counter patiently and helpfully enabled my indecision.  I was going to get the Icelandic lamb and do my bit to help out their economy, but they didn’t have the cut I wanted, so the lamb’s from New Zealand instead.  This lamb smelled exactly like lamb should, and reassured me that I had done the right thing in tossing the lamb stew the other week.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound lamb neck bones
1 7- to 7 ½ -pound lamb shoulder, boned (bones reserved), well trimmed, rolled, tied
All purpose flour

2 medium onions, chopped
10 large garlic cloves
2 cups chicken stock or canned broth
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp ground allspice

1 ½ Tbsp butter
1 ½ Tbsp all purpose flour

Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Heat oil in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add all lamb bones and cook until brown, turning often, about 15 minutes (I failed at finding just lamb bones and used a lamb shank, as recommended by the butcher, instead). Transfer bones to plate. Season lamb with salt and pepper and dredge thoroughly in flour. Add to pot and cook until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to plate with bones.

Note: I lack both a Dutch oven or a stew pot that’s oven safe, so I did my searing and sautéing in a large cast iron skillet and then transferred everything to a medium sized baking dish and covered it tightly with foil.

Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until onions are just golden, scraping up browned bits, about 5 minutes. Return lamb to pot. Arrange bones around lamb. Stir in stock and next 7 ingredients. Bring liquid to boil. Baste top of lamb. Cover; bake until lamb is tender when pierced with long sharp knife, turning once, about 2 hours 15 minutes. Cool; cover and chill overnight.

Note: I cooked mine to 155 which is about halfway between rare (140) and medium rare (160-170).

Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove fat from surface of lamb and cooking liquid. Transfer lamb to platter. Remove string from lamb. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange in shallow baking dish.

Note: So much fat.  Words can’t quite describe how much fat.  It was a little gross, but at least I was removing most of it from the finished dish.  Suffice it to say, you don’t want to skip this step.

Remove bones and discard. Strain pan juices, pressing hard on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Bring pan juices to a boil.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 ½ tablespoons flour and stir until mixture begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in hot pan juices and boil until sauce is reduced to 2 cups (about 15 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.  Pour over lamb. Cover with foil and bake in a 350 oven until lamb is heated through, about 35-40 minutes.

Arrange lamb on platter.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped mint (optional, but recommended).  Serve extra sauce on the side.

Note: The easiest way to seed a pomegranate is in a bowl of water.  If you do it underwater if you burst any of the seeds it doesn’t stain your counter or your clothes, and the pith will float while the seeds sink, so it’s easy to separate the two when you’re done.  Having seeded two pomegranates in two weeks I have come to a new appreciation for Proserpine’s ability to extract and eat just four seeds, all I can think is that either goddesses are more adept at seeding pomegranates than I am, or that she had red juice all over her robes when Hades had his triumphant moment which is just adding insult to injury.

Couscous Bread
I was going to make couscous to soak up the gravy, but then I was gifted with about 7 loaves of bread on Tuesday night, and even I can’t eat that much bread before it goes stale and/or moldy.  So, we had bread to mop up the sauce instead of couscous.  Then because I still had ridiculous amounts of bread left I sent people home with mixed bags of bread and we still have bread left for us.  It was a lot of bread.  Excellent bread though.



  1. Sounds and looks delicious. It will be on my table soon, especially as my pomegranates are just ready to pick.
    Queries: Was this frozen NZ lamb?
    Did the butcher bone and roll it for you?
    When you say you used a lamb shank–you just bought the lamb shank and used it for the extra flavoring? (Isn’t a lamb shank a meaty piece of lamb, or am I thinking of something else?)
    Note about Proserpine: I eat individual seeds from a pomegranate, easy with a toothpick to pry them out, time consuming if you want a whole pomegranate seeded. Maybe Proserpine had toothpicks. Under water is a good tip.

  2. The lamb was fresh, not frozen and then shipped. It was already boned, rolled and tied.

    The lamb shank is a meaty piece of lamb, but it was the only thing they had that had a bone in it, and I think the purpose of the bones in the braise is to get them to release some of their gelatin (and possibly marrow) to thicken the sauce.

    I have due respect for your ability to pry pomegranate seeds out neatly.

  3. The bone also helps with even cooking by heating from the inside.

  4. Wow, seeding pomegranates under water. What a revelation. It is so quick and easy and a whole container full of p seeds in minutes.

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