Braised Leg of Lamb with Stewed Apples and Polenta

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

As soon as September 1st hits, I switch immediately into fall mode. Sweaters are taken out of drawers, 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, pleasing, and comforting as meat that's been left to cook over low heat for multiple hours until it reduces into glorious, shredded, tender goodness, and this recipe is no exception. The classic autumnal fruit, apples, are employed here 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.

Click here to see the 8 Ways to Use Apple Other Than Pie story.

Ingredients

For the lamb:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • One 1 ½-pound semi-boneless leg of lamb, skin membrane removed
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin
  • 2½ cups hard cider
  • 2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ lemon, quartered
  • 1 McIntosh or Granny Smith apple, quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10 whole cloves

For the stewed apples:

  • 3 McIntosh or Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped into small ¾-inch pieces
  • 4 ounces hard cider
  • 3 ounces chicken broth
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the polenta:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus 1 sprig for garnish
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked polenta
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

For the lamb:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the canola oil in a large pot over high heat. Sprinkle all over 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 the pot from heat.

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 lemon, chopped apple, onion, smashed garlic, fresh rosemary sprigs, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves.

Place the pot back on the stove. Over medium-high heat, cook briefly until the liquid reaches a boil. Taste the braising liquid and salt as necessary. Cover the pot with a lid, and place it in the oven. The lamb will braise for approximately 2 ½ 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:

Meanwhile, cook the apples in a skillet over medium heat, and add the hard cider and chicken broth. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and cumin. Squeeze the lemon half over the apples. Continue to cook the apples over medium heat 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:

Next, in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for approximately 5 minutes or until they start to soften and turn translucent; add the fresh thyme and sauté for an additional minute until fragrant. Add the chicken broth to the pan. Once the broth is hot, slowly stir in the polenta. Stir frequently for approximately 40 minutes or 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.

Once the lamb has finished braising, remove from the pot and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, serve the polenta, alotting roughly ½ cup to each plate and spreading it into a thin layer. Roughly chop or shred the lamb and divide evenly among 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 a 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.