When planning a menu or researching an ingredient, I often consult The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs. This book is a guide to hundreds of ingredients, summarizing key aspects of each ingredient's essence (season, taste, weight, volume, and primary function), most recommended cooking techniques, helpful tips to keep in mind when working with it, compatible flavors, flavor pairings to avoid, and examples of dishes from notable chefs using that ingredient.
I was amazed to discover the versatility of the pomegranate. One "highly recommended" pairing with pomegranates is salad (especially cucumber, fruit, and green salads). "Frequently recommended" pairings include cardamom, chicken, cinnamon, desserts, ginger, grapefruit, lamb, lemon, roasted meats, orange, and sugar. Then there are approximately 40 more ingredients and spices that are "recommended" pairings with pomegranates.
Chef Cindy Pawlcyn's Chiles en Nogada, my fourth course, uses chile peppers, onions, garlic, cinnamon, pork, walnuts, and lime, all recommended flavor pairings with pomegranates.
I considered some kind of taco to complement the Chiles en Nogada, and wanted to use lamb. I came across Bobby Flay's Roasted Venison with Spicy Mexican Cranberry Sauce, and knew I could modify that recipe with the use of lamb instead of venison and pomegranate juice and arils instead of cranberry juice and cranberries. I liked the idea of braising lamb shanks in the sauce, yielding tender pieces of lamb, but then wasn't so sure what else I would add to the tacos. Sometime around 3:00 a.m. one morning, when I seem to do my best menu planning, the thought of a deconstructed lamb taco floated into my head, with the crispy polenta stepping in for corn tortillas, and that's how this course evolved. The primary ingredients and spices (lamb, allspice, cinnamon, onions, garlic, chicken stock, and red wine), are all listed in The Flavor Bible as recommended pairings with pomegranates.
Braised Lamb Shank Ragu
Spicy Pomegranate Mexican Cinnamon Sauce
Polenta Triangles, Cojita cheese and pomegranate arils
Adapted from Bobby Flay's
4 large lamb shanksSalt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Mexican cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup red wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
Polenta Triangles (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish
Cojita cheese, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Season each shank with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven and sear the shanks. Remove once browned.
Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery and cook until lightly golden brown. Add the cinnamon and allspice. Return the shanks to the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock and pomegranate juice and season with salt and pepper.
Bake covered in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until the shanks are very tender. Remove the shanks from the pot and strain the sauce mixture into a clean small saucepan. Over medium heat, swirl in the butter, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. When the shanks have cooled enough to handle, remove the meat and tear into bite-size pieces. Add meat back to the sauce. At this point, you can refrigerate and then reheat before serving.
When ready to serve, place a polenta triangle on each plate, top with Braised Lamb Ragu, and garnish with Cotija cheese and pomegranate seeds.
Basic Italian Polenta
6 cups water
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups Bob's Red Mill Corn Grits
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
In a large, deep pan, over high heat, bring water and sea salt to a boil. Gradually stir in polenta. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until mixture is very thick (about 20-30 minutes). Use a long-handed spoon to stir because mixture pops and bubbles and can burn. Stir in butter, and more salt if needed. Serve immediately, topped with freshly grated cheese.
To make Crisp Polenta Triangles:
If making into polenta triangles, oil a 9 x 12 inch baking pan, spoon polenta into pan while hot, spread evenly, and smooth the top. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate.
Once the polenta is cooled and firm, you can cut it into squares, lift the squares out of baking pan with a spatula, and cut each square into two triangles, wrapped and refrigerated until ready to use. Remove the prepared triangles from the refrigerator about an hour before you are ready to saute.
Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a large saute pan and heat to 350 degrees F. Using a metal spatula, gently lower the polenta triangles into the oil. Don't overcrowd the pan; saute in two batches if necessary. Saute the polenta triangles until golden brown on each side and then transfer to a paper towel to drain briefly.
You won't want to miss dessert, coming up next, Chocolate Pavlova, Pomegranate Frozen Custard, and Pomegranate Pink Peppercorn Syrup!