Weeknight Spiced-braised Lamb Shoulder

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I'm one of those people who thinks about the sides or base before thinking about the meat for a meal. As such, I require high-impact meat dishes, and this is one of them. I love lamb shoulder because it's rich without being super gamey like leg of lamb can be. It also cooks down to tender perfection like pulled pork. Ordinarily, this takes a good 3+ hours, but by using shoulder chops, you can get it down to just one. Yields 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ to 2 pounds lamb shoulder chops 
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided half and half
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided half and half
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed, divided half and half
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ½ large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods, optional
  • 1 large or 2 small ancho chiles
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 cup dry or semi-dry white wine
  • 1 cup unsalted vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup vermouth, white or red, optional (use more stock if not using)

Instructions:

  1. Lay the chops out, and sprinkle one side of all the chops with half the salt, half the pepper, half the fennel, all the cumin, and all the coriander. Rub into the meat, flip, and season with the remaining salt, pepper, and fennel. If you can, let it sit at least an hour or up to overnight. If not, don't worry about it.
  2. Quarter the onion through the root end to end up with half moons. Peel the garlic but leave it whole. Halve the ancho chile lengthwise and remove the seeds and core.
  3. In a large, wide, shallow pan (with a lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chops hard to dark brown on both sides. Because of the bones, you may have to hold them down with tongs or a small plate. Remove to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.
  4. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until the garlic has browned. Then add the star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, chiles, and rosemary. Sauté a couple minutes more until the spices are fragrant and the chile has started to soften.
  5. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the wine, stock, and vermouth to the pan, and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom. Cover and bring to a boil.
  6. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, add the lamb chops and any juices back to the pan. Cover partially and simmer for one hour. If the pan dries out prematurely, add more stock. You want to end up with a quarter cup of sauce by the end of the hour.
  7. Once done, remove the pan from the heat, cover fully, and let the chops rest in the pan 15 to 30 minutes more.