Braised Lamb with Artichokes, Lemon, and Fresh Herbs

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield:

    8 to 10

    Servings

Appears in

Rubbed first with wild bitter herbs, tender young lamb was roasted, often over fragrant pomegranate wood, to mark each Passover in the Second Temple period. The Jewish historian Josephus estimated that 255,600 animals were sacrificed for the Passover celebratory feasts during the reign of Nero.

With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the custom lost favor as it evoked sorrowful memories of the Temple sacrifices that were no more. Eventually, Ashkenazi Orthodox and many Conservative Jews began to refrain from eating any roasted meat at the seder meals.

I have retained the ancient herb perfume in this braised lamb dish. Garlic, lemon, and arti-choke build up more layers of flavor and texture—my attempt to compensate for the missing taste of roast pomegranate woodsmoke.

Ingredients

  • 5 to 6 pounds bone-in lean lamb shoulder
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced onion (about 2 large onions)
  • 10 large garlic cloves, peeled, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • Shredded zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 cup chicken broth, preferably homemade, or good-quality, low-sodium purchased
  • 8 to 10 medium artichokes (see Cook’s Note), or two 9- or 10-ounce packages of frozen artichokes, thawed and patted dry with paper towels
  • ½ cup chopped fresh mint

Method

Trim the lamb of as much fat as possible—very tedious, but careful trimming usually eliminates the need to skim the fat from the pan later on. Cut the lamb into 1½- to 2-inch pieces, leaving the bones in (they’ll add a lot of flavor). Do, however, cut the meat away from any large, unsightly bones. Pat the meat dry with paper towels.

Do the initial browning in a large heavy skillet (10- to 12-inch cast-iron is ideal). Heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot, but not smoking. Add the lamb in batches and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Fry only a few pieces at a time; crowding the pan will steam the meat, rather than brown it. Add a little more oil to the pan only if necessary because you want to burn off as much fat as you can. Transfer the lamb as it is done to a platter.

If there is any rendered fat remaining in the pan, wipe it out. Add 1 tablespoon fresh oil and heat until hot. Add the onions and brown over medium-high heat, lifting and turning them as they become deep gold, about 10 minutes, and scraping up any browned bits. Add the whole garlic cloves and cook for 2 minutes longer. Return the meat to the pan, season it with salt and pepper, and turn the meat over a few times to coat it well with the onions. Add ½ cup lemon juice, 1 tablespoon rosemary, the thyme, and lemon zest, and cook for 3 minutes.

Transfer the mixture and any scrapings from the bottom of the pan to a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or large, deep, flameproof casserole and add the broth. Bring to a slow bubble, cover, and reduce the heat to the barest simmer. Cook for about 1½ hours, until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork. Turn the meat frequently, basting it with the onions and pan sauce.

Add the artichokes, and cook, covered, until they are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. I like to continue cooking until a few of the artichoke pieces break up and melt into the sauce, but follow your preference. If there is a lot of liquid left in the pot, uncover and turn the heat up to high, evaporating enough so that the pan liquid is thick and syrupy. Stir in the mint, minced garlic, remaining 1 tablespoon rosemary, and ¼ cup lemon juice, and cook for 3 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning. There should be a pronounced lemon flavor, so add a bit more juice, if necessary. For an easier and more attractive serving, remove some of the large bones that pull away from the meat easily. Serve hot.

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