Lamb Braised in Milk with Fennel

Lamb braised in milk. Huh? Okay, yes, I know it sounds weird (at least it did to me at first) but hear me out. It’s just a spin on a traditional Italian recipe of pork braised in milk, in which the milk reduces down to a rich and creamy white sauce. For you I-don’t-eat-lamb types, check out the links at the bottom of the recipe to a few excellent recipes for pork variations. For you lamb-lovers (and yes I admit that here in the US we are definitely in the minority) I urge you to give this treatment a try. My friend Peg made this for a few of us the other day, served over farro, and I couldn’t wait to make it. She got the recipe from Mario Batali, and I tweaked with it a bit. So good! Especially over the farro, though I’m guessing it would be just as good over brown rice (for the nutty dimension) or even mashed potatoes.

As for farro, it’s a grain popular in Italy that is slowly becoming more known here. It’s essentially a wheat berry, but with much less gluten than wheat. The term farro can refer to several differ varieties of wheat, including emmer and spelt. The farro I used in this recipe was farro piccolo, or einkhorn. It sort of tastes like barley, oats, and pasta all rolled into one.

You should be able to find boxed farro at Whole Foods or in some natural food stores. If you cannot find farro, you can substitute brown rice, for a similar nutty flavor. Although many farro cooking instructions call for soaking the grain overnight, I have not found it necessary so far.

If you use brown rice instead of farro, follow the directions on the package for making the rice (not the farro directions listed here). This dish can also be served with plain white rice, barley, or mashed potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (use mortar and pestle, or chop finely with a chef's knife)
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 cups farro (can substitute brown rice)
  • Salt

Method

1 In a large (5 to 6 quart) thick-bottomed Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil on medium high. Pat dry the lamb pieces. Season well with salt and pepper. Working in batches, place lamb pieces in the pan (do not crowd). Do not stir. Turn only once a side has browned. Brown all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.

2 Reduce heat in pan to medium. Add remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the diced fennel and cook a few minutes until softened, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Add the garlic and crushed fennel seeds.

3 Add the meat back into the pot. Add the milk and cream. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, add the sprig of rosemary, cover. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until meat is tender.

4 While the lamb is cooking, prepare the farro (or brown rice). The farro will take about 45 minutes to cook, after which it can be kept warm, so time accordingly. Rinse farro through a sieve until the water runs clear. Add it to a large, thick-bottomed saucepan. Cover with about two inches of water and add about a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, partially cover and let cook for 45 minutes or until tender. Drain of excess water and set aside until you are ready to use it.

5 Once the lamb is tender, remove the pieces from the pot and set aside. Discard the rosemary. Bring the milk cream sauce to a boil over high heat and reduce to about 2 cups. Working in batches, purée in a blender (or with an immersion blender) until smooth. (When puréeing hot liquids in a blender it's best to work with relatively small amounts, filling just maybe a quarter of the blender. Otherwise the pressure can blow the top off the blender and make a hot mess.) Return the sauce and the lamb to the pot and if needed heat until warm through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Before serving, stir in the fresh chopped parsley.

Serve the braised lamb over warm farro.

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