What do you think of prunes? This amazing pairing of lamb and prunes is guaranteed to give you a new perspective on this humble ingredient.
Many people in the US are not so familiar with prunes as a gourmet ingredient. Prunes are something old people eat to stay regular, right?
We can take a cue from the French, who revere prunes, especially from certain regions, such as pruneaux d’Agen, which has been part of the culinary heritage of south western France for ages. They are so prized that people give them as gifts…imagine getting prunes as a present!
If you are not familiar with the culinary delight of prunes, here is a simple recipe that is sure to convert you. Get the best, organic prunes you can find, and make sure they are pitted and have no sugar or other added ingredients on the label. Prunes are high in iron, as well as bone strengthening vitamin K.
- 1lb 100% grassfed, pasture raised local lamb stew meat
- 6 oz home made beef stock (made from gelatinous bones – bone broth)
- Fresh herbs: parsley (or cilantro, which is very nice in this recipe), thyme and marjoram, chives
- Ten or more pitted prunes
- Four or five cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- Cardamom seeds from 10 or more pods
- Carrots, cut in large chunks
- Half yellow onion, chopped to 1 inch pieces
- Olive oil for browning
- Preheat oven to 300 F
- Cut lamb into 1.5 inch pieces (if not already cubed) and season generously with salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Peel and chop garlic, and add to meat
- Open cardamom pods, remove seeds and add the seeds to the meat (I use a mortar to open the pods, but you can press them beneath the flat blade of your kitchen knife)
- Chop onion and carrot
- Heat olive oil in pot or pan, add lamb mixture and brown well
- Remove browned lamb to your braising pot and cover with parsley, thyme and marjoram
- Add a little more oil to your browning pan if necessary and add carrots and onions, cooking until lightly browned
- Remove veggies to your braising bowl and place on top of meat and herbs.
- Place prunes around the sides, add stock
- Cover braising pot tightly and put in center rack of oven for two hours
- After two hours, raise oven temp to 400 F
- Remove lid (and parchment, if you are using it) and cook for additional 15-30 minutes (this is dependent on how long it takes for the liquid to reduce down to a syrupy sauce…for me it was 25 minutes)
- Do not overcook! You want this to neither be soupy or dried out…you can ignore this in the oven for two hours, but you will need to be vigilant for the last part of cooking
- Using tongs or a fork, remove the sprigs of herbs and discard
- Plate meat and veg, add some prunes, and use a spoon to drizzle the sauce on top
- Cover with chopped chives and serve
What's with the parchment?
Why do I tuck parchment on top of my stew? It's absolutely unnecessary if you have a proper braising pot. And by proper, I mean a heavy pot that has a tight fitting, domed lid that fits your ingredients. You want a pot that is just big enough, but not too large.
I have such a pot, several, actually. But to be honest, I get used to being creative with kitchenware in the months I go nomad. I learned to cook "properly" but during the months when I am travelling around, renting apartments and at the mercy of whatever I might find in the cupboards, I improvise.
Here I'm using a corningware baking dish with parchment tucked tightly around. I use the lid from the pot I browned the meat in, which fits fine, but not as tightly as needed. I have found the parchment method turns out really excellent stews and braises, especially when I'm making small amounts.
A word about stock
This recipe calls for home made beef stock made from gelatinous bones. This is not the same as stock made from marrow or soup bones. And it is nothing at all like store bought broth. The stock is completely gelatinous, rich bone broth.
If you are considering using something else, I cannot say what your results will be. The thick, unctuous sauce is the direct result of this superior stock, which must be gelatinous. If you are tempted to use store bought broth, please don't! Canned broth is revolting and low quality.
It's not hard to make this stock. I buy special gelatinous bones from my butcher, from cows that were 100% grassfed and pasture raised. I put them in a slow cooker with water and some herbs and spices, and leave it to cook for 12 hours. I pour the liquid into a fat separator and fill 6 oz Mason jars with the stock, and freeze them once the jars are cooled.
It's that simple. But it is imperative that you get the gelatinous beef bones, and only from 100% grassfed, pasture raised animals. If you want to learn more about how to evaluate meat, check out the meat buying guide here.