I wanted to arrive at Lantern a bit earlier than my "date" (fellow blogger buddy and cooking instructor Stacey of CookEatLife), in part to settle my nerves with a gloriously naughty cocktail in their exotic little lounge hidden in the back, but mostly to sit and bask in a food location long on my bucket-list without embarrassing poor Stacey with my drooling and fawning.
It's no secret I fawn over food quite often, but especially food coming out of Andrea Reusing's kitchen. Food that is "cooked in the moment" with a focus on seasonal ingredients - a southern approach with Asian influences. Visiting Red Lantern's website often and researching Andrea's recipes, I imagined my love of Asian cuisine melding perfectly together with memories of summers spent in my grandparent's kitchen where platefuls of fresh vegetables from the garden were the stars of the show.
When my work brought me to South Carolina last fall, I took advantage of the fact I was driving north, directly through Raleigh on my way to spend a week with friends in Virginia before heading back home. No stranger to venturing off the beaten path, taking a slight detour west of Raleigh and camping out in Chapel Hill for one evening would be no skin off my nose.
After years of reading about and recommending Lantern, I was finally here and I was hoping more than anything I'd get to sample Andrea's coconut milk braised pork shanks. A close friend had taken me up on the recommendation and ordered them and he said they were the best shanks he'd ever had. And he's an Italian, so he's had him some shanks.
Unfortunately for me, it was not meant to be - the whole point of cooking in the moment (Andrea's mantra as well as her cookbook title) is to put what tastes the best in that moment on the table. You can't research a place as much as I did and complain about not being able to order a dish that appeared on the menu four months prior. A slight mewling of disappointment may have passed my lips, but I happily sucked it up and we ordered several amazing dishes and shared a wonderful evening together talking about our food addictions.
But I haven't been able to get those pork shanks off my mind. How is it possible to be so consumed with a dish I've never even tasted? I searched for her specific recipe high and low. I bought her cookbook, even though I knew the recipe wasn't included - she wanted her cookbook to be more about her approach to cooking what was in season, not necessarily the dishes she showcased at Lantern. Still, I wanted to embrace that way of cooking and her book planted that seed in me. (Another great seasonal cookbook that's hot right now is Renee Erickson's "A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus" cookbook - similarly to Andrea's book, meals are grouped by season.)
Undaunted, I researched the world wide web and found a recipe on Food52's site that came closest to the flavors I was imagining when reading about Andrea's dish at Lantern (which, maddeningly, is available right now - I just checked her updated menu ...). Onetribegourmet's recipe for Lamb Shanks Roasted in Thai Flavors with Creamy Coconut Gravy looked to be just what I was looking for. I'd come across some meaty lamb shanks on my way through Flagstaff headed home after Christmas, but this dish will work just as well with pork shanks.
A few things in onetribe's recipe didn't work for me (all in the preparation and cooking - the ingredient list provided the exact flavors I was looking for plus one small addition) so the recipe below borrows her main ingredients and preparation methods, but I've tweaked them to share what made the dish work for me. You can find onetribe's original recipe here, as well as a million other fabulous recipes from home cooks on Food52.com.
I served my shanks over Jasmine rice. Tossing a cinnamon stick into the pot while the rice steamed elevated this multi-layered dish an extra level. Consider giving it a try.
Thai Coconut Braised Lamb Shank
Time: 30 min prep / 3 hours cooking
A variation on a recipe posted on Food52.com
Ingredients - lamb and marinade
- 4 lamb shanks, about 1 1/2 lb each, trimmed of extra fat
- 16 ounces unsweetened coconut (reserve any cream for later use)
- 1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves (regular basil is a fine replacement)
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 8-10 kaffir lime leaves (if you're unable to source these, use the zest of 4-8 limes
- 2 sprigs fresh lemon grass, diced
- 1 cup green onions, chopped
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
- 1 tablespoon Thai palm sugar (if you're unable to source this, brown sugar is a fine replacement)
- 4 tablespoons fresh garlic & ginger, minced
- 4 red Thai chiles, chopped
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon grape seed oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the lamb shanks on all sides - searing the exterior this way adds flavor. Remove the shanks from the skillet and let them rest.
- To make the marinade, pop the remaining ingredients into a food processor and whiz to a paste. Pop a bottle of beer at this point and hush the dogs who are heartily barking in competition with the food processor. When your shanks are cool, pop them into a large ziplock bag and pour over the marinade. Let the shanks rest in the refrigerator overnight - they've got a lot of work to do tomorrow!
- Preheat your oven to 350 and bring the shanks up to room temperature (depending on the size of your shanks, plan for about an hour for the chill to wear off). Place the shanks and the marinade in a covered baking dish or dutch oven and braise them in the oven for at least 1.5 hours. My shanks were a bit large and they took up to 3 hours before the meat became meltingly tender. The key here is to be familiar with how hot your oven cooks and to start checking the meat after the 1.5 hour mark. When the meat pulls away easily from the bone and feels super tender, you have arrived at your foodie destination!
- Remove the shanks from your cooking vessel and let them rest, lightly covered with a blanket of aluminum foil. It's time to make the coconut gravy, and here are the ingredients: 2 cups of juice from the lamb shanks (I found I had just about that much in my pot - if you're short, just add a bit more chicken stock and/or coconut milk), 1 cup coconut milk (reserve any cream from the coconut milk), 1/2 cup chicken stock
- Add the coconut milk and chicken stock to the juices in your pot, bring up to a simmer and cook gently for about 10 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken - don't cook the gravy too rapidly or the coconut milk might split on you. Take the gravy off the heat. If you're lucky enough to come across a dollop or two of coconut cream from your coconut milk (you can also find it sold separately in boxes at Asian markets), stir that into your coconut gravy right before you drizzle it over those fragrant and tender shanks.