Lamb Braised in Milk with Fennel

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

If you prefer pork to lamb, 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.

Lamb Braised in Milk with Fennel Recipe

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  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 5 to 6

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 Brown the lamb pieces on all sides: 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 Sauté fennel, add garlic, fennel seeds: 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 Return meat to pan, add milk, cream, rosemary, cook until tender: 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 Cook the farro: 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 Remove lamb from pot, reduce sauce: 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.

6 Purée sauce, toss with lamb: 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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Adapted from Mario Batali's Lamb Braised in Milk with Garlic and Fennel and Joanna Smith's Milk-braised Lamb with Fennel.

Links:

Heather's Farro Recipe from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks

Milk braised pork chops from Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen

Pork Loin Braise in Milk Bolognese Style from Cooking Italy

Lamb Braised in Milk with Farro

Showing 4 of 18 Comments

  • Renee

    Hi Elise! This is my first time commenting (shameface) but your website is our go-to and everything has always turned out absolutely delicious. Super late in the game but, I started this recipe and forgot that we don’t have cream or half and half, which is what I’ve used before for it. I just have milk, but I also have creme fraiche and was wondering if that would work as a substitute? I know the consistency isn’t the same, but I figure it’ll reduce in the braise anyway. No worries if you don’t see this in time!

  • Holly

    First of all, I added the parsley at the earlier point. When I make it again, I will do the same AND add some at the end. This is a great dish! I could not stop eating it! Wow! The barley worked really really well. Will try the spelt next time. Keep these great recipes coming–so glad I found this website!!

  • Holly

    I’m in the process of making this right now and it’s already delicious and I’m not done. However, I have a question–you have me adding the parsley with the garlic and fennel seed, then again at the end. Which is it, or both? Thanks so much–I can’t wait to eat it. I’m substituting barley for the farro, which I cannot find. I did find spelt but am not using it today. Is spelt actually a good substitute? Thanks–your website is absolutely the best!

    Hi Holly, good catch on the instructions. Add the fresh parsley at the end. Regarding spelt and barley, both make good substitutions for farro. ~Elise

  • Julie

    Just made this tonight and it was a huge hit. Had to send husband out for emergency parsley run during the early stages because I’d forgotten to read the ingredients list all the way through. Wonder if it would have worked without the parsley? Would love your thoughts on that. Made the FARRO too! My first time — what a crazy delicious grain! Elise, I am a huge fan of your website. Your recipes are go-to for me. Especially the chile verde. It was a huge leap of faith to try braising in milk — and as I’d bought four pounds of lamb (originally for guests — long story). It came out perfect. I can’t wait to eat it again tomorrow! (Am assuming it reheats well.)

    Hi Julie, so glad it worked out for you! I know how nerve wracking that can be, especially when you make a big $ commitment for the ingredients. Here’s the deal with parsley. It’s a “bitter”. Your tongue can only taste five things – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (you’ll have to look the last one up if you are unfamiliar with it.) A well balanced dish hits many of these tastes. This recipe doesn’t have acid, but it does have sweet (fennel), salt, and bitter (parsley). A bitter can also help balance the fat in a recipe, the way acid (lemon juice) can. So yes the recipe can be made without the parsley, but the parsley does help balance the flavors. And I agree, farro is crazy good! ~Elise

  • Lisa

    When I told my husband that this was what I was making, he wasn’t excited, and in fact urged me to “take it easy tonight, I’ll just make a sandwich.” I explained that for once I had shopped for a recipe and I WANTED to make it. I served it up when he was enjoying football on TV, and he couldn’t stop exclaiming how good it was. He wanted to take some with him for lunch today. We were both VERY impressed. I’m inclined to prepare lamb more often if it can be this easy, and tender, and flavorful (without being overpowering).

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