Braised Lamb Shoulder
Some of Daniel's professional touches here, like passing the ground spices through a sieve,
and peeling the grapes, are optional refinements that marginally improve flavor and texture.
But others, like adding flour to the braise to give the sauce more body or soaking his currants
in sweet wine, are traditional tricks that are worth integrating into your culinary repertoire.
Though the ingredient list may be intimidating, there's not a huge amount of work here, and it produces an impressive, stunningly delicious dish.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and black pepper
6 green cardamom pods, cracked with a mallet or the bottom of a skillet
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1.2 teaspoon ground sumac
1.2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup white wine
Bouquet garni (cheesecloth wrapped around 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 5 or 6 cloves garlic, and 10 black peppercorns)
1 cup lamb or chicken stock, or more as needed
20 grapes, preferably peeled and halved
2 tablespoons currants, soaked in a bit of sweet white wine
1 roasted and peeled red bell pepper, finely chopped
1.2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet or casserole that can later be covered; season the lamb with salt and pepper. Add the lamb chunks to the pan a few at a time, removing them as they brown. (You can also do the initial browning in the oven: Preheat to 500°F and roast the lamb chunks and oil, turning once or twice, until brown all over; time will be about the same, 20 minutes. Move the casserole to the stove, carefully, and proceed.)
2. While the lamb is browning, combine the cardamom and cumin in a small skillet and toast over medium-low heat. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until lightly colored and fragrant, just a few minutes. Transfer the spices to a spice or coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder. Sift through a sieve into a small bowl, add the sumac and fenugreek, and toss to combine. Toast the pine nuts in a similar manner and set aside.
3. When the lamb is nicely browned, return it to the pan, lower the heat to medium, and add the butter, onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften. Add the flour and ground spices and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine and bouquet garni, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Add the stock, cover, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the lamb is tender, at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally and checking after about 30 minutes to make certain that the mixture is not too dry. (The recipe can be prepared a day or two in advance up to this point; cool, place in a covered container, and refrigerate.)
4. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the shoulder to a serving platter. If the braising liquid seems thin, put the pan on the stovetop over high heat and reduce to about I cup. Pour the sauce into a sieve or fine-meshed strainer and strain the sauce over the lamb, pressing on the vegetables and bouquet garni to extract as much liquid as possible, then discard the spent vegetables. Garnish the platter with the grapes, currants, peppers, parsley, and pine nuts and serve.