Braising for Spring: The Lay of the Lamb

“Nose-to-tail” is a trend that has been on the rise in restaurants over the past few years, glorifying and celebrating chefs who utilize animals in their entirety and strive to leave little to no waste in their wake. As whole animal butchers however, nose-to-tail isn’t just some new craze; it isn’t something that we find chic, or fashionable, or on-trend with the latest food phenomenon. No, at an old school butcher shop like ours, nose-to-tail is simply how we operate; it’s what we do.

Lamb Stew Meat - Porter Road ButcherNot only is it our job to utilize each and every animal in their entirety—by making sausages, pâtés, lard, tallow, and stock—but it’s also our job to educate our customers to do the same with their cooking. There are only so many ribeye steaks in a cow or chops in a lamb, so what happens when we run out of those familiar celebrity meats? Well, we offer alternative cuts; we suggest a new method of preparation; and then we educate, explain, and give recipe suggestions. Generally when it’s all said and done we do utilize that whole entire animal in one way or another, but it is you the customer that helps us do that.

Even though spring seems to have officially sprung here in Nashville, and we are no longer fighting to #BraiseTheStorm as we were just two weeks ago, this upturn in the weather doesn’t mean we ought to completely eradicate that style of cooking: braising, that is. It’s too good! What seems like more of a cold-weather technique due to the thick, rich, and often times “heavy” dishes that braising can produce, this cooking technique in and of itself doesn’t necessitate coma-inducing meals.

Braising does, however, necessitate tougher cuts of meat, which more often than not are those that remain in the case during the warmer, grill-heavy seasons. Of course, these undercover meats most certainly aren’t inferior to or any lesser than the aforementioned celebrity meats, which are the first to sell; they’re simply unfamiliar, and therefore go un-asked for.

But did you know that tougher meat—meat that comes from well-developed and well-used muscles—is more flavorful than the rest? You see, as muscles work they build muscle fiber, become stronger and bigger, and additionally build connective tissue and collagen. So when you allow them to cook at a low temperature for a long period of time, these fibers, tissues, and collagens have the chance to break down and become tender, juicy, and gelatinous. That’s what gives braised dishes that rich, smooth, smacky and delicious mouth feel that we all love.

Even though braising meat is often associated with cold weather stick-to-your-ribs type of meals, it doesn’t have to be. Even at this time of year, there are still plenty of incredibly flavorful, and soon-to-be incredibly tender cuts of meat both to sell and eat.

So what do you do when it’s one week before Easter and you discover that we’ve already sold out of all the celebrity cuts of lamb by the time you think about placing your order? You smile at yourself and laugh. Because you know that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; you know that sometimes it tastes better to pick a working, supporting role. You may not feel fabulous because you picked a famous, paparazzi-crazed cut of meat, but you will feel smart, chic, and incredibly on trend with the latest and greatest nose-to-tail phenomenon.

Springtime Braised Lamb | Great for Easter! | Porter Road ButcherBraised Spring Lamb
Serves: 4

Active time: 45 mins.
Total time: 5 hrs.

1.5 lbs. lamb stew meat, 1” cubes
Freshly cracked salt & pepper
1 large onion, cut in quarters
1 bulb fennel, cut in quarters
1 bulb of garlic, cut in half
1 c. dry white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
¼ c. white wine vinegar
4 c. lamb stock (1 qt)
6 bay leaves
½ c. Mascarpone cheess
1 Tbs. lemon juice
¼ c. fresh tarragon, chopped
1 c. frozen peas, thawed
1 lb. pasta, like pappardelle
Optional: Parmesan

  1. Preheat oven to 250 F.
  2. Remove lamb from fridge and bring lamb to room temperature. Season all sides liberally with freshly ground salt and pepper. For a thicker sauce, dredge lamb pieces in flour after seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Melt bacon fat or lard (or grape seed oil) in pot, and once glistening add lamb. Brown on all sides until a golden or auburn brown crust appears (enacting the Maillard Reaction), then remove lamb from heat and set aside. Reserve drippings in pan.
  4. Add onion, fennel, and garlic to pot and cook until edges begin to crisp or turn golden. Deglaze pan with white wine and vinegar, and using a wooden spoon scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all those delicious brown bits, aka “the fond.”
  5. Return meat to pot with vegetables and wine, and add lamb stock and bay leaves. If you are using a Crockpot, at this point add all aforementioned ingredients to the Crockpot instead.
  6. Cover Dutch oven with a lid and put in the oven for 4-5 hours, depending on how hot or cold your oven runs. When you test the meat for doneness, it should be tender and shred easily, but still have somewhat of a chewy texture.
  7. Remove lamb from pot and set aside. Using a colander or mesh strainer, strain the leftover sauce into a large bowl, removing any vegetables and herbs that remain. Return sauce to pot. Over medium-high heat, allow the sauce to reduce by half.
  8. Meanwhile, fill a large stockpot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  9. Once the sauce has reduced, stir in mascarpone cheese and lemon. Add meat and bring it back up to temperature.
  10. Once meat is thoroughly heated, add peas and tarragon and heat for an additional 1-2 more minutes. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  11. Serve over pasta. Optional: garnish with Parmesan, freshly chopped tarragon, or a squeeze of lemon.

Braised Springtime Lamb | Porter Road Butcher

Still want to learn more about braising? Have no clue what we mean by The Maillard Reaction? Eager to tweak a recipe you’d like to improve? Check out our guide:How_To_Braise

Peas and pasta not your thing? Perhaps you’re more of a parmesan cheese and polenta kind of person… Check out our Easter recipe from last year: Braised Lamb Neck Ragu. –>

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