Friday, 27 March 2009

The Assumption and The Lamb

Somehow, I've always been the person people assume a lot of things about. When I was younger, in high school to be exact, people assumed that since I was quiet, it meant I was unfriendly (although they used much harsher terms that this). People assumed that since I was pretty, I had boys falling at my feet in a woozy delirium (when really they never seemed to be bothered). And then, there was always the assumption that I was a vegetarian.

There must be something about me that emits a "not into meat" vibe. Innumerable times, with strangers, with friends, in California, in Europe, I've reached for a piece of grilled chicken at the dinner table, or pondered ordering a pulled pork sandwich, and then I've heard with a gasp: "'re a vegetarian!" This was often whispered, off the to side, as if they were reminding a good Christian girl that she shouldn't kiss her boyfriend in public. It was whispered like a scandal, like I'd fallen off the band-wagon, like I was doing something very very naughty.

Although my sister has gone through a few bouts of experimental vegetarianism, I've never really been there. When I'm cooking for myself, I don't cook that much meat, but mostly only because I've always been squeamish and the look and feel of raw meat really made me feel a bit ill. In recent days, I've gotten over it, and am trying, with luck I'd like to think, to expand my personal repetoire beyond boiled grains and stir-fried greens.

I'm not a vegetarian. In fact three years ago, almost to the day, was when I realized I love lamb. Like, a lot.

It was Easter, I was in San Diego, at my aunt Lori's house. There were roasted potatoes, asparagus, and probably some pies. I don't really remember, because all I was focused on was the juicy hunk of lamb that had been living in the oven for the past few hours. The meat made an entrance on a large platter, oozing juices and yielding gently to the knife.

And then this week, I made my lamb debut. I've already had forays into the meat world, mostly in terms of chicken, but this was different. From a recipe over at Gluten-Free Girl, I followed the Chef's loose advice and went with it. Two lamb shanks to feed three of us, soaked overnight with mirepoix and a bottle of wine, browned the next day and then slid into the oven for three hours.

Time consuming yet simple, the recipe practically made itself. It sat in the oven during our afternoon yoga class, the vegetables caramelizing, the sauce thickening, and the flavors concentrating through the flesh of that meltingly tender meat. Wow, we said, over and over. Wow.

The flavors were like stepping into a French Bistro. Nuanced with mustard and mint, red wine and thyme, we all felt we had stumbled upon a special plate.

Dishes like this remind me daily why I would never say never to a food group.

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