Braised Leg of Lamb with Stewed Apples and Polenta

Braised Leg of Lamb with Stewed Apples and Polenta
Staff
Braised Leg of Lamb with Stewed Apples and Polenta
Claire Bullen

As soon as September 1st hits, I switch immediately into Fall mode. The sweaters are taken out of the drawers, the gourds stake out a place on my dining room table, and suddenly, all the meat I cook comes out braised. There are few things as indulgent, sensorily-pleasing, and comforting as meat that's been left to cook over low heat for multiple hours until it reduces into glorious, shredded, melting goodness, and this recipe is no exception. The classic autumnal fruit, apples are here employed in a quasi-savory context, accompanying the lamb as a chunky sauce of sorts. Hard cider, meanwhile, is used as a braising liquid to impart the lamb with that extra apple-y flavor. All in all, it's warming, satisfying, and should take you through the rest of Fall and Winter.

Ingredients

For the lamb:

2 tablespoons canola oil

One 1-½ pound semi-boneless leg of lamb

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

¾ teaspoon cumin

1 apple

1 onion

1 lemon

8 cloves of garlic

2-½ cups hard cider

2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 cinnamon sticks

10 whole cloves

 

For the stewed apples:

3 apples

4 ounces hard cider

3 ounces chicken broth

Juice of half a lemon

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cumin

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

 

For the polenta:

2 shallots, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 cup dried polenta (corn grits)

4 cups chicken broth

Salt, to taste

Directions

For the lamb:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large pot, heat the canola oil over high heat. Remove any skin membrane covering the lamb and sprinkle all sides very generously with sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and cumin. When the pan is hot, add the lamb and sear on all sides for 30 seconds to 1 minute until the lamb has developed a thin golden-brown crust. Remove from heat.

Roughly chop the onion and apple into quarters. Cut the lemon in half; chop one half into quarters and resrve the other half. Remove peels from 8 garlic cloves and delicately smash with the flat side of a knife.

To the pot, add the hard cider. Add 2-3 cups of chicken broth, or until ¾ of the lamb leg is submerged in liquid. Add the chopped apple, onion, and lemon, the smashed garlic, two cinnamon sticks, 10 whole cloves, and 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary. Over medium-high heat, cook briefly until the liquid reaches a boil. Taste the braising liquid and salt as necessary. Once the oven has preheated, cover the pot with a lid and move from the stove to the oven. The lamb will braise for approximately 2½ hours until it is fork-tender and easily shredded. Turn the lamb over in the liquid every half hour or so.

 

For the stewed apples:

As the lamb braises, prep the apples: peel and chop into small ¾-inch chunks. Add the apples to a skillet, and pour over with 4 ounces of hard cider and 3 ounces of chicken broth. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and cumin. Take the reserved lemon half and squeeze over the apples. Over medium heat, cook the apples for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 40 minutes, roughly mash with the back of a wooden spoon or a fork. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

 

For the polenta:

After the apples have finished stewing and while the lamb is still braising, begin the polenta: in a medium-sized saucepan, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the diced shallots and minced garlic and sauté for approximately 5 minutes until they start to soften and turn translucent; add the fresh thyme and sauté for an additional minute until fragrant. Add 4 cups of chicken broth to the pan. Once the broth is hot, slowly stir in the dried polenta. Stir frequently for approximately 40 minutes until the polenta has absorbed most of the liquid and the overall consistency is thick, creamy, and resembles porridge. Add salt and pepper to taste.

 

To assemble:

Once the lamb has finished braising, remove from the pot and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, on each plate, begin with roughly ½ cup of polenta, spread to a thin layer. Roughly chop or shred the lamb and divide evenly between the plates, placing it on top of the polenta. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over the polenta, and top the lamb with the stewed apples. Garnish with fresh thyme sprig.

Lamb Shopping Tip

Look for meat that is bright red. Red meat turns paler as the hemoglobin within releases oxygen – a sign that the meat has been sitting too long at the butcher's counter.

Lamb Cooking Tip

When browning meat, resist the urge to move the meat – you must allow a flavorful crust to form over high heat. Once it has formed, the meat should slide freely with the shake of a pan.

Lamb Wine Pairing

Most red wines, especially cabernet sauvignon, but also including cabernet franc, mourvèdre, Rhône blends, zinfandel, petite sirah, nebbiolo, nero d'avola, primitivo, barbera, and sangiovese.