Monday, August 10, 2015

Lamb Ragu – Sous Vide Cooking

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Lamb Ragu – Sous Vide Cooking
Serves: 6
Difficulty: Gourmet & Wonderful!
Sous vide temp: 140 degree F; Time: 48 hours
Lamb Ragu served over polenta – Sous Vide Cooking
Some of the most impressive results of sous vide are created with tough cuts of meat. Lamb shanks would certainly fit that description! Sous vide allows you to cook these tough cuts to medium-rare and tender to the point of falling off the bone. This is accomplished because cooking tougher cuts with sous vide allows you to break down and tenderize the meat without overcooking and drying it out. The amount of flavor in meat is determined to a large extent upon the amount of work that muscle had to do, and so shanks are very flavorful. Unfortunately muscles that do a lot of work also become tough, so there is often a choice between tender meat with a light flavor (such as tenderloin) and tough meat with lots of flavor (such as shanks). 

With sous vide, you can have the best of both worlds: tough cuts can be cooked at a temperature that is just high enough to break down the toughness, but also low enough to allow the meat to stay succulent. The meat will be fork tender, succulent, and very flavorful. The only drawback of the low temperature is that it takes a long time, sometimes from 24 and 72 hours. It is not a big problem because sous vide cooking does not require any attention at all while it’s going on. So you can start up the cooking process on Sunday afternoon and serve outstanding meal on Tuesday night….easily as the shank is cooked with the sauce!

For a more complete description and instruction on sous vide cooking, please see my post, All About Sous Vide at

Ragu, a meat-based sauce is actually a relatively new addition to Italian cuisine. Traditionally the ragu is served with pasta, classically with pappardelle. However, I had a hankering for polenta – wonderful creamy, rich polenta served with a spread of lamb ragu on top.  I know you will too! (See link below for polenta recipe). A brief note on cooking with wine: while avoiding expensive bottles, always use a wine you would be happy to drink.
  • 4 bone-in lamb shanks
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 2 C veal stock
  • 2 C finely diced onion
  • 1 C finely diced celery
  • 1 C finely diced carrot
  • 1 C red wine
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Garnish: chopped parsley, shredded Parmesan cheese, drizzle of olive oil 

Fill a pot sufficiently with hot water; heat further on the stove until it approaches the desired sous vide temperature. In this case, you will want to heat to 140 degree F.

In a large bowl, combine: diced tomatoes, veal stock, onion, celery, carrots, red wine, salt, coriander, cumin and black pepper. Mix thoroughly.  Portion the liquid into 4 Ziploc bags large enough to hold one shank and ¼ of the mixture.

Add one sprig of rosemary and thyme to each bag. It would be difficult to use vacuum sealer given the quantity of sauce. Use ziploc bags, and carefully lower the bag with shank and sauce into the heated water using the water to displace the air surrounding the mixture. At this point, one can carefully seal the Ziploc bag making certain it is completely closed and air is removed. Or, one can secure the edge of the package and clip it to the side of the sous vide bath/pot. Set the timer for 48 hours. Cover the water bath with plastic wrap to minimize water evaporation. Add water intermittently to keep the lamb submerged.
48 hour sous vide

When the timer goes off, remove the bags from the water bath. Save the sauce and remove the shanks and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the bone, and using two forks, roughly shred into bite size pieces. It can be done ahead at this point served later in day or the next day.

Lamb shanks after cooking

Lamb - medium, moist and tender

Cut into small strips....

....and then shred with forks

Let the cooking liquid cool for 10-20 minutes and skim off any floating fat. When ready to serve, transfer to a large saucepan with the shredded lamb. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes.

Simmer with the sauce
Serve over polenta (see link below) or pasta. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, minced parsley and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Don't make the mistake I made – you will want more, so double the ingredients, make the ragu and freeze half for another time!  Trust me, you will thank me later…again and again.


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