Lamb Shoulder – the whole animal series


Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farms is a 4th generation family farm. They have a committed Community Supported Agriculture customer base and also sell at Farmer’s Markets such as Kingfield. I have come to know them by buying half lambs. Sunshine Harvest gets two key things right: their meat tastes really good and they are nice people who seem to know virtually all of their customers. When I have purchased half lambs I have also been able to work with their butcher to specify my specific cuts, which has allowed for additional experimentation.

This post will get the lamb whole animal series going again with my favorite cut – the shoulder. Braised lamb shoulder retains texture, offers a nuanced but full flavor, and fills the house with an incredible smell. Sure, chops present well and don’t take long to prepare. The leg is an easy roast and looks nice on the table. Ground lamb makes an amazing burger, especially if you don’t cook it beyond medium. Shank and neck also make a wonderful stew. Last year, I wrote a duck whole animal series which covered Stock and offal and a second take of lamb offal will be attempted as part of this series based on the virtually inedible results of my first try. When more than half a lamb is required for this series, everything else will come from Lowry Hill Meats.

What will you need to get started?

One lamb shoulder
2 medium chopped onions and 4 cloves of sliced garlic
4-6 carrots, cleaned and chopped into half rings
2 cans of crushed tomatoes
A half bottle of unoaked, medium bodied white or red wine
One quart lamb or chicken stock
Fresh parsley, thyme (or other soft greens) and a bay leaf
Ridged pasta, cavatelli works well


Bachelor Porkchop’s master braise recipe:
  • Buy a lamb shoulder from a farmer or butcher shop who you trust
  • Season the shoulder with salt and pepper
  • Heat a dutch oven on the stove with a neutral oil or duck fat over medium high heat and sear the lamb shoulder on both sides until a crust is formed
  • Remove the lamb shoulder. Add 2 medium chopped onions and cook over medium heat for a few minutes as they gently brown.
  • After a few minutes, add 4-6 roughly cut carrots along with a few squirts of tomato paste, the garlic you sliced, and some fresh thyme that is removed from the stem. Cook for a few more minutes until soft.
  • Add two 12 oz cans of high quality chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Even better, add a quart of tomatoes that you canned during peak tomato season.
  • Taste the wine you plan to use. I like a dryer, unoaked, medium bodied white white such as sauvignon blanc, or a medium or fuller bodied red with minimal oak, such as a malbec or Côtes du Rhône. If it isn’t worthy of drinking you shouldn’t cook with it but you don’t need to use a $25+ bottle of wine either. If you haven’t braised with white wine, give it a try. I think the flavors of the meat stand on their own in a lovely way.
  • Add a quart of darker stock (lamb or chicken would work well) and a half bottle of a dry white or medium bodied red wine. This goes without saying but if you make the stock your efforts will be rewarded. If you don’t, try to buy some house made stock from a butcher shop.
  • Tie butcher string around fresh parsley, thyme, other fresh herbs (tarragon is particularly nice with this dish), and a dried bay leaf. I either don’t use or go easy on rosemary here to avoid the piney flavors that can overwhelm a dish – especially if you are using white wine.
  • Put the shoulder back in the dutch oven. Add stock and/or wine to get to at least one inch below the top of the shoulder
  • If you aren’t planning on working out while the shoulder is braising, have a glass of the wine you didn’t use
  • Transfer the covered dutch oven to a 300 degree oven for 2.5 or 3 hours, or until it is pullable after intersting a fork
  • Remove herb bundle and place shoulder on a cutting board to cool
  •  You now have two options:
    1. Add tomatoes, and cook down the sauce a bit while the shoulder cools
    2. Use an immersion blender or potato smasher to create more consistency with the remaining sauce and reduce to a thick sauce or even a demi glace
  • Remove the meat from the the lamb shoulder and pull or chop into bite sized pieces, add back to the sauce and add additional salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve mixed with pasta and potentially a dash of an interesting olive oil to finish the dish. I like Cavatelli, but any pasta with rougher edges will hold on to the sauce well.


Other lamb shoulder preparations: Thinly sliced for Mark Bittman’s cumin laden stir fry or smoked for hours at 250 degrees until the internal temperature hits at least 190, either with just salt and pepper or a lighter barbeque rub.

Suggested Pairings: Aged Argentine Malbec. We had a 2006 Carmelo Patti Malbec. He is a traditional wine maker and true storyteller who was the highlight of a very notable trip to the Mendoza area. Alternatively, an earthy Oregon Pinot Noir or Beaujolais would complement this intimate meal without overpowering the nuanced flavors.


Hot Smoked Wild Herring

IMG_1786.JPGI love fish. One of my first jobs was at Monahan’s Seafood Market in Ann Arbor, MI when I was 17. My rowing coach worked there and introduced me to the owner, Mike Monahan, who hired me for a summer. This was one of my first experiences understanding how important food is, and that quality really matters. Monahan’s has been open since 1979 and when I was there had fish flown in fresh 6 days a week in the bellies of Northwest Airlines planes from the coasts. The business had this rickety white F150 that transported the fish every day for the 20 mile trip to Detroit Metro Airport. What was amazing is I was trusted to fillet whole fish from day one (these were expensive fish), even though I spent a lot of time cleaning squid, washing the floor, and cleaning out the basement cooler during the week. I learned from a long term employee that ‘if it smells like bleach, it is clean’. Amazingly, 20 years later, some of the guys I worked with are still at Monahan’s.

On the weekends, the shop was extremely busy and anyone working was serving customers. Mike believed that staff needed to know their product to properly serve customers, so he sent us home with fish on a regular basis on the condition we cooked it ourselves and reported back. 10 minutes to the inch. Even though I cook to temperature now I’ll never forget that rule of thumb. When interviewing for a job in college I was advised to never remove my “fishmonger” title from my resume. While it eventually came off I will never forget my fishmonger days and they influenced a lifelong passion.

After moving to the Twin Cities over ten years ago, I found Coastal Seafoods. While I am disappointed that there is very little wild Minnesota fish available in general, sometimes they have whole herring. You can also find whole herring on the North Shore when you are lucky. Hot smoking them is one of my favorite meals, and results in fatty and moderately pungent flavors under a nice crispy skin.

Whole Rainbow Trout are also good and are widely available. Brining with some brown sugar, salt and preserved lemons is optional. An alternative is a rub with large pieces of salt, citrus peel and allspice. You can stuff the fish with aromatics like fennel and tomatoes.  Hot smoke (I use my Big Green Egg) on a warm cedar plank at 275 or 300 until the fish has an internal temperature of about 175. At this point, you could serve and eat whole. Or flake the fish and crisp the skin, contributing to a fantastic salad with a light vinaigrette and a poached egg. This is a meal that is fairly simple and elegant. Oh, the possibilities…..


The smoke and moderate “fishiness” pairs with a medium bodied red, such as a syrah, or a funky cabernet franc, such as a Chinon from the Loire Valley.



Hearts & Kidneys: Completion of the Duck Whole Animal series…. and the Beginning of the Lamb Series


The duck fat has been rendered (see this great, simple recipe) and the leftover confit sits in the back of the refrigerator protected by the fat in which it was cooked. This contributes to an easy weekend salad of duck confit, spinach, and whatever vegetables are on hand. All that remains are the hearts and kidneys.

The next whole animal series will be with lamb, so this post will wrap up the duck and start the lamb.

A goal for this project is to cook with the whole animal, and all that is left of the ducks are the hearts and kidneys. It has taken me a while to get here, and my procrastination has allowed me to have some great conversations about their use. I was also in Montreal earlier this year and had a brilliant braised lamb heart that was stuffed with sausage at Joe Beef. So this is no longer theoretical.

It was time to put the plan into action. To start, I put the duck and lamb hearts and kidneys together in a marinade, and finished with simple braise and then a quick sear in a hot cast iron pan. The marinade was simple – olive oil, salt, fresh thyme and a small amount of wine.IMG_1838.JPG

The result? Borderline edible but definitely not delicious. Chalky. My neighbor ate most of what was prepared but I stopped after a few bites. By far the least delicious thing on the table that night. A fail.

What did I learn?

  1. Organs are tricky, and sausage alone won’t get me where I need to be
  2. The marinade plus the braise broke down the meat beyond what was intended, which resulted in overcooking. The acid in the marinade likely compounded the problem. Next time I will probably try just a marinade plus a quick sear.
  3. Procrastination has an effect. Offal must be very fresh to have a chance at creating something that exceeds mediocrity.
  4. My neighbor must have been raised in an exceptionally polite family

Pairings: High proof bourbon to mask the flavor and texture. If that doesn’t work, shots of bitters, Washington Isle style like they do at Nelsen’s Hall & Bitters Pub.


Stock – Whole Animal Series (I wish that I had duck feet)


During a great conversation with Lenny Russo a few years ago, when he was hosting Lidia Bastianich, we chatted about some of his tips for home cooks. He really urged making stocks and cooking simply with the great flavors of the Midwest. He loves duck stock, and emphasized finding duck feet for the base of the stock due to their level of collagen with a few carcasses for the best flavor. This conversation stuck with me, and if you get to know a duck producer you may be able to get your hands on some really nice duck feet. Having home made stock in the freezer makes me feel more connected to my cooking, and I was thrilled when my young daughter developed a stock habit. Initially it may feel a little weird to have a freezer full of bones, and may take a little explaining to guests searching for a bottle of vodka, but this is absolutely part of the adventure.


Recently I had a stock day where my freezer was emptied of mushroom parts, chicken, duck and lamb carcasses. I decided to also make beef stock and Jonny Hunter of Lowry Hill Meats kindly sold me a beef leg cut to order. Butcher shops that purchase whole animals are worth seeking out because of the flexibility in what they can cut for you on the spot.

My basic stock recipe is to roast bones for ~30 minutes at 400 degrees and then bring a healthy amount of aromatics to a simmer with the bones. Heavier meats like beef and lamb could use a bit of tomato paste in the roasting process to bring out flavor. Aromatics could include onions (with skin), celery, leeks & fennel – especially with birds, some carrots but not too many to keep stocked balanced, a few whole black pepper cloves, a few bay leaves, parsley and/or thyme. Sometimes I will add some chicken wings and lamb necks to the stock, and sometimes I just use the bones.

Since this is the whole animal series, this round of stock started with whole duck carcasses from Bar 5 Meats. I have found that poultry stock needs 4-6 hours, lamb stock needs 6-8 hours and beef stock could go 10+ hours. If you really get serious you could use a large pressure cooker. Strain it through cheese cloth and a strainer and allow it to cool – you may use an iced water bath if you like – prior to freezing for future use. I tend to store my stock three ways in the freezer: ice cube tray sized portions,  pint sized portions, and heavily reduced portions that I can spoon out and add water to for a quick pan sauce.

My favorite non-meat stock is mushroom stock, and I save stems, clippings from interesting mushrooms that don’t quite make the cut as meal worthy, and dried mushrooms. 30 minutes in the pressure cooker with aromatics does the job. I like leeks, a little garlic, some white onion, and thyme as my aromatics but you can really use a wide variety. Just maintain a balance, and don’t use too much of something with a strong flavor.


Homemade stock in the freezer is the secret weapon of a home cook, especially in the North where we rely on soups, stews, sauces, and braises for much of the year. Our two year old daughter is also a big fan, and “soup” was her favorite food group this past winter.



Duck Two Ways – Whole Animal Series

IMG_1266_edited.jpgThis is the first installment of a whole animal series. In this case, I purchased a few ducks from Bar Five Meats, which is about an hour southwest of the Twin Cities in Sibley County, MN and is a sixth generation operation. They do their own butchering and smoking, stress 24 hour pasture access, and everything I have had from them has been of the highest quality. They sell at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market year round, along with a few other markets.

As I seek a greater connection to where my food comes from and have tried some excellent dishes prepared with lesser used parts, it only seems natural to learn how to cook with every edible part of the animal. Future posts will cover stock, rendered duck fat, and organs. After wrapping up the duck series I will move on to lamb.

Earlier this year I learned how to properly break down a chicken. When I cooked a whole chicken it was often “under a brick” or smoked and pulled, which required less break down. Previously it was just one of those things I struggled through when I had to do it without knowing to “follow the knife” and find joints, which a fellow cooking class participant kindly taught me. Of course, he then taunted me with a video from local temple of fried chicken Revival that featured a trained assassin breaking down a bird in less than 30 seconds. Watching it still humbles me. 

Ducks are a little more of a project to break down than a chicken as their bone structure is thicker and the flesh is much tighter than on a chicken so “following the knife” is not quite enough to get the job done. After thinking about this it was clear that birds that fly are built differently than those that don’t.

IMG_1262_edited.jpgConfit was a new technique to me and was really easy, and just required a day or two of inactive time with salt, parsley, shallots, and thyme rubbed into the skin, and then covered and kept in the fridge. I then covered the legs, thighs and wings in rendered duck fat. (Lowry Hill Meats is a great resource to purchase rendered duck fat if you don’t have it on hand.) The rendered fat was warmed until liquid, and then the parts were added after rinsing. Then into the oven at 225 for about three hours. I now have some of the leftover confit in the back of my fridge protected by the fat that was used in the process for future use.

The breasts did not require much active time either. Score the skin side of the breast and cover in salt and pepper. The easist way is to cook on the stovetop, starting with a cold pan at medium to medium high heat, with caution not to overcook and a quick flip near the end of cooking (not more than 130 or 140 degrees internal temperature for rare to medium rare). I have also gone the sous vide route and cooked them to 110 degrees with some duck fat and thyme and then finished in a skillet that started cold. The fat then rendered over medium heat until a nice crisp ensued, and I gave the other side of the breast a quick sear and finishing around 130 degrees. In this case sous vide seemed like overkill given how well the stovetop breasts turned out. 

The breast and confit were served on a bed of risotto with a garnish of a sage leaf fried in duck fat remaining in the pan. Depending on the season I will throw in a nasturtium leaf from the garden. More on the risotto, a favorite recent find, and herb garden in future posts.

At the end of the day, the result was a very elaborate meal that did not require a lot of active time.