Maybe it’s because I grew up spending Christmas Eve in Chinatown with my clan of New York City Jews, but celebrating the holiday has always felt like a work in progress. Since I’m not wedded to any one particular tradition, I’ve jumped around, trying different ones on for size.
One of them has become braising a large hunk of meat. For our family, it’s the ideal holiday dish. We can braise it in advance, serve it to friends on Christmas Eve, then reheat the leftovers for Christmas dinner, when we are too tired from opening presents and our annual Christmas walk around the park (one of my new favorite traditions) to want to cook anything new.
We’ve varied the contents of the braising pot over the years, but keep coming back to leg of lamb because we both love it and since we don’t eat it very often, it seems like a special meal. Plus, braising a bone-in leg of lamb is an excellent way to cook it. The marrow flows into the sauce, thickening and seasoning it, while the meat collapses and becomes spoonably soft.
In this recipe, I’ve added anchovy and olives to the pot to give the sauce a tangy depth that works well with all the rich meat. It’s especially nice served over a smooth, sweet root vegetable purée spiked with garlic, which acts like a velvety sauce. On Christmas Day, we toss the leftovers with pasta. It’s a wonderful new two-day tradition, boiled down into one pot.