Sauce Slut: A Glossy, Crimson, Zinfandel Reduction
I confess, I’m a total sauce slut: My wife could legitimately accuse me of infidelity, if only she had thought to proscribe lustfully leering at the 5 mother sauces in our vows, and I might happily eat a shoe, if only it were first slathered with a demi-glace of sufficiently high quality.
I like, but almost never love, the more modern sauces based on fresh fruits and vegetables, requiring very little cooking, and immeasurably more healthy than their classic French antecedents; certainly, I use them, and certainly, they play a central role in modern cooking, but – for me – they will never evoke the depth of flavor, the sensual texture, the sheer emotion embedded in a tablespoon of something that began life 3 days earlier, in a stockpot the size of a Prius, and which took hundreds of person-hours and the valiant deaths of several animals to bring forth unto my dinner plate. And so, when I’m really in the mood to cook something soulful, I almost always try to finish it with a sauce worthy of the name, something rich and dense and redolent of luxury, something like what happens to the braising liquid from yesterday’s post, once it’s been strained, reduced, strained again, reduced again, and enriched (or monter au beurre, as the technique is known more formally) with butter from some nearby goats…
While I think the goat is a much more interesting option, particularly with the beets, I would not hesitate to make this with lamb (shanks or shoulder, say) or beef (shin, short ribs…).
Braised Goat Shanks with a Reduction of Zinfandel, Ancho Chili, and Beetroot (serves maybe 4)
- Wipe off and dry the goat shanks, season liberally with salt and pepper, and sear them on all sides in a heavy, oven-proof pot that has a tight fitting lid for later (cast iron is great for this sort of thing); this will take around 10 minutes. You want good color on all the surfaces of the shanks, so use a pair of tongs to move them around and stand them on end and such. Preheat an oven to 275F.
- While the shanks are cooking, prep a large carrot, a couple of celery sticks, and a medium onion into a couple of cups of mirepoix of roughly uniform, medium dice, along with a few whole, peeled cloves of garlic. Cut open, stem, and seed 1-3 large ancho chilies (1 will barely add any heat; 3 will be a bit spicy). Remove the shanks and caramelize the lot of it. If you want a really deep, dark braise, add some tomato paste – a few tablespoons – and caramelize that with the veggies, once the latter are soft; I did NOT do this, as I wanted a translucent sauce with the color of deep magenta of wine and beet.
- Lay the shanks on top of the veggies, add a half-bottle of Zinfandel (nothing fancy, but something you’d drink without making a whiskey face), a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, and then add stock (I used chicken, but veal or beef would be fine) until the liquids come most of the way up the sides of the meat (but not covering it). Toss 5 whole peppercorns and a few sprigs of thyme (you could add rosemary as well). Bring the pot up to a gentle simmer, cover, and put it in the oven. Set a timer for an hour.
- Peel the beets and, if large, slice in halves or quarters. This is, you will be shouting, not how one is meant to prepare beets! And you’re right, but here’s the thing: The reason you never peel beets before you cook them is to avoid bleed; but I want them to bleed, because the beets are what gives the final sauce its incredible color.
- After an hour, check the braise, adding water if its drying out, and nestle the beets in and around the shanks. Return to the oven for another hour – it will take at least an hour to cook the beets, and the meat should cook for 2-2.5 hours total.
- Remove the pot from the oven, carefully reserve the shanks (wrap them in foil to keep the juices in), strain out the veggies, and then cook down the liquid until it begins to coat the back of a spoon, skimming excess fat and impurities as you go (you can use the same pot, because it will be strained again).
- Once it has reduced – you want it pretty concentrated – restrain the sauce through a chinois lined with cheesecloth so that it is nearly clear of impurities. Return to a clean pan, reduce until it reaches a sticky nappe consistency, and mount the sauce with goat’s butter (unnecessary if you are using beef, but definitely worth it for goat or sheep’s meat).
*A short note on ingredients: You can find goat’s milk butter at Big John’s Market or The Cheese Shop, organic beets at Shelton’s, and young goat (seasonal, like lamb, twice yearly, in the fall and sprint) from the Owen Family Farm in Hopland (sorry, no website).