Lamb Riblets Braised with Fennel and Onion

This recipe is a recipe that I developed for Old Creek Ranch. This dish yields meat that is almost falling off the bone. The flavors can easily be varied, as can the vegetables. See the Chef’s Notes at the end for variations. Although the recipe seems long, it isn’t really, and once you’ve done it, it is easily done again.

INGREDIENTS:
1½  – 2 lbs. lamb riblets
1 medium to large fennel bulb, stalks and fronds removed and saved, split through the root, remove the core.
1 medium to large brown onion, halved through root and peeled
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and de-germed, minced
1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds-optional
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and chopped, or not. Your choice.
1 cup red wine (a Rhone or Syrah is good)
1-2 cups light stock or water as needed
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Water as needed

EQUIPMENT:

1 medium sized, 3-4 inch deep oven-proof pan that has a tight fitting lid. Pan should be just big enough to hold riblets without much overlap, but they should be fairly tightly packed.

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Finely slice fennel crosswise. Do the same with any thick stalks, and mince enough fronds to yield 1-2 tablespoons.

Finely slice onion into half-moons.

Season the riblets well with salt and pepper.

Heat pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough oil to lightly film the pan bottom.

When oil is hot (not smoking, mind you, just rippling on the surface), add the riblets. Cook to brown well all over, turning as needed. When browned all over, remove pan from heat and remove riblets to paper towels, and blot excess fat.

Drain oil from pan and return to heat. Add enough oil to coat pan bottom and get the oil hot.

Add onions and sauté until lightly browned.

Add fennel and more oil if needed. Cook to wilt and brown a little.

Continue cooking, softening the vegetables. Be careful not to burn them. Add a little water if it seems the pan is too hot or the vegetables are softening, covering the pan to steam them right after adding the water.

When the vegetables are lightly browned and tender (about 10 minutes), add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant.

Add fennel seed if using, the thyme, and some fennel fronds. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in and cook a moment.

Add the wine and turn up the heat. Scrape the pan bottom to de-glaze, getting all the “bits” stuck to the bottom.

Add the riblets back to the pan and cook until the wine has reduced by 80%.

Add stock or water to come about halfway up the riblets and bring to a boil.

As soon as the pot boils, cover and put in pre-heated oven.

Cook 1½-2 hours until meat is almost falling off the bones. (Check every half hour to ensure there is liquid in the pan.) When ribs are tender, remove ribs to a serving dish. At this point, you can pour the cooking liquid and vegetables over the riblets, or you can puree to make a smooth sauce.

If you wish to puree, it is easiest to use a stick mixer and just do it right in the pan. Otherwise, add the contents to a blender (not more than 2/3rds full) and put on the top, cover the top with a thick towel, and start on the lowest setting and work up slowly to puree. (This is important. I have seen hot liquid spray out of a blender onto walls and chefs when started at higher speeds.)

Pour sauce over riblets and serve.

CHEF’S NOTES AND VARIATIONS:

  • Add thoroughly rinsed, canned garbanzo beans a half hour or so before the dish is done.
  • Use carrots and celery with or instead of fennel.
  • Add a pinch of culinary lavender when the herbs go in, and back off on the fennel.
  • Instead of thyme and wine, use cumin, cinnamon, and a little ginger and turmeric for a mid-east/North African flavor, or use curry for Indian.
  • Add a little canned diced tomato and liquid instead of wine, with carrots. Slice carrots very thin if you intend to puree the sauce so they will break down easily.

YIELD: 4 servings

SOURCE: Chef Andrew E Cohen

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