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Here’s a Dish to Warm a Wintery Night

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By Dan Clarke

Our title, Taste California Travel, plays on all three of those words. Today’s recipe emphasizes that word Taste.  

Circumstances have led to the restrictions on—and now virtual closure of—the state’s restaurants. We hope this unfortunate condition is remedied soon. Meanwhile, we assume more of you may be entertainng at home these days. Here’s a recipe that looks to us like something that might seem a bit exotic, yet comforting, on a chilly winter evening. We obtained it from the American Lamb Board, which credits the recipe's creation to The Original Dish.

Lamb is a versatile companion to many wines. Whatever dry red you pour will work, but we suggest a Zinfandel—not one of the big, syrupy ones, but a Zin showing those brambly and black pepper qualities (Ask your wine merchant. He/she will have a suggestion for you.).


Braised American Lamb Shanks with Creamy Polenta


  • 4 1/2 pounds American lamb shanks
  • kosher salt, as needed
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 pound roma tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 4 sprigs oregano
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 8 ounces gouda cheese, shredded
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper


For the Braised Lamb Shanks:

Season the American lamb shanks with a generous pinch of salt on all sides. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Once hot, work in batches to sear the lamb shanks, about 4-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer the lamb to a plate.

Add the shallot and onion to the pot. Sauté for about 6 minutes until beginning to caramelize, stirring often. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and a pinch of salt. Stir well and cook for another minute or so. Add the carrots. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the roma tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Stir well and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the beef broth, oregano, and rosemary.

Add the lamb shanks to the liquid. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer for 1 ½ hours. Remove the lid and continue to gently simmer for another hour, or until the lamb is fork tender and the sauce has reduced.

Spoon the creamy polenta (recipe below) into a shallow bowl. Place the lamb shanks onto the polenta. Spoon a generous amount of the tomato sauce over top. 

For the Creamy Polenta:

Add the water and a good pinch of salt to a small Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Pour in the polenta and reduce the heat to low. Cook the polenta for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until thickened.

Stir in the gouda cheese until melted. Add the butter, honey, and black pepper. Stir well until the butter has melted. Serve immediately.

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