I went to a Viking Cooking School demo cooking class given by Jason McConnell, Chef, at the Red Pony, Sol and 55 South in Franklin. It is a little funny that all of Jason's restaurants are all on the same corner in Franklin, but it seems to work. Jason is very popular amongst the Franklin set, but I don't get down there much because it is about a 1/2 hr drive for me to get there. I have actually only eaten at the Red Pony once and just have not been able to get down to Franklin for dinner again. But, people like Jason and his food and drink, so I thought I would take a class from him, Jason offered a class showing us how to make 3 course dinner including rotolo, which was similar to a butternut squash gnocchi, braised lamb over polenta, and a cranberry bread pudding made with croissants rather than bread. I am just not a fan of bread pudding. I hate mushy bread that has sugar on it, so it was not my thing. It isn't because it wasn't good, I think it was good because other people ate it, I just don't care for bread pudding. The rotolo requires quite a bit of prep, fresh pasta sheets and cheese cloth that you would only use once. Cheese cloth for the layman cook like myself is relatively hard to find and expensive (at a brick and mortar) and I am not about to make sheets of pasta, so I am unlikely to make this dish. It is a signature dish for the Red Pony, so I want this dish again, I will just have to go to the Red Pony and get it.
The one dish that I would make would be the braised lamb shank served over polenta. The lamb shank is 1st dredged in flour, salt and pepper, and then browned on all sides. The browned lamb is then put in a crock pot or dutch oven. The sauce pan is deglazed with red wine and a mirepoix. Then the deglazing liquid is poured over the lamb, and more liquid like water, wine, or stock is added until the lamb is completely covered by liquid. The lamb is covered and the the crock is turned on low for 2 to 4 hrs, or the covered dutch oven goes into a 350F oven for about 1/5 to 2 hrs.
Jason made polenta with 2 cups polenta, 2 cups stock, and 2 cups cream, and salt and pepper. Jason said that polenta is always 1 part polenta to 2 parts liquid by volume. It doesn't matter what liquid, it could be water, milk, stock, or a combination there of.
I tried this dish at the demonstration, but it was clear that the demo helpers did not reduce the braising liquid to make the sauce for the lamb and polenta. The braising liquid probably started out with a little wine from the deglaze and the rest of the filler was water. It was ok, but I think the braising liquid reduction need to actually be reduced to concentration the flavor. I figured I could do this, so over the weekend I gave it a shot.
Every year I get a couple lbs of freshly stone ground corn from the corn guy at the Wilson County TN fair. Every year I have no idea what to do with it. Hoe cakes, corn cakes, corn bread, etc have all been a bit of a failure for me (I am guessing one needs a Southern mom to help teach one how to use corn meal, and I don't have a Southern mom). The closest I got to teaching me how to use this ingredient is Jason. Perhaps he will lend himself to occasionally be my Southern mom to teach me how to cook some things. So, for my polenta I used this fresh ground corn meal I got from the Wilson Co Fair.
Just for insurance I made mashed potatoes just in case the polentas came out bad. So, for my polentas I used 1 part ground corn, 1 part milk, and 1 part homemade chicken stock with salt, pepper and a little garlic. The mashed potatoes I used butter, milk, salt, pepper and a little garlic. So, just as Jason said, 1 part to 2 part will always work, and Ta Da! It did! The potatoes are from my organic CSA, and are always good. The milk I use is JD Milk from reusable glass jars so the milk doesn't have that plastic container flavor. Very good.
The braised lamb, I did exactly what Jason did. I dredge the lamb shanks in seasoned flour and browned it on all sides. I placed it into a dutch oven. I deglazed the pan with Newton Claret, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and peppers. The tomatoes and peppers are heirloom organic veggies from my garden that I pick the last fruits over the weekend before turn the plants into compost. The carrots are from my CSA and are a nice small flavorful variety. I put chicken stock, a bunch of kalamata olives, cloves of garlic, the deglaze wine and veggies, extra wine and some water to finish covering the lamb. I put the covered dutch oven into a 350F oven for about 1 hr 45 min. While that was going on, I went outside to start winterizing my veggie bed. That took longer than I thought. So when I came back in it was time to start the polenta and mashed potatoes.
For the gravy, I took the braising liquid and removed all the veggie matter, and the lamb, and put the braising liquid, on the stove to reduce. In the liquid I added a little tomato paste, diced onion, diced peppers from my garden, garlic, and diced kalamata olives. I let that all reduce until it was a consistency that I wanted to serve. It was really good!!
The volume of lamb I made (2 lbs of lamb) was enough for 3 hearty dinners for 2, or 6 meals. The first was lamb and polenta. The second was lamb over bowtie pasta. The third was lamb over mushroom ricotta ravioli that I got from Lazzaroli's Pasta shop.
I really liked this dish because we could have 3 good dinners in a row, and not be bored with it. Sometimes we just get so burned out by leftovers, we just don't want to see it again for a long time. Not this time We were happy to have it again and again.