Border Springs Farm is a family-owned sheep farm in Patrick Springs, Virginia, just 10 miles from North Carolina. They raise certified naturally grown grass-fed lamb. And while they’re not exactly local, we are lucky that they have a retail space in Philly’s Reading Terminal Market.
I have wanted to try their lamb—oh, the things I do for you-- and purchased a boneless shoulder, a great (and overlooked) cut for slow braising. The shoulder weighed over three pounds, which means it’s something to make for a small group of friends or for the two of us, it was several meals based around the ragu. I realize that meat from a small farm is often a little more expensive and Border Springs may not be available to you (they have an on-line market) but there may be a small farm in your area. You will taste a difference in lamb that is allowed to roam and graze like they are allowed to do at Border Springs. Every time we’ve had the lamb ragu for dinner my red haired food co-pilot has smiled contentedly and murmured, “I do love this lamb.”
Now that the cold is upon us, it’s perfect weather for low and slow, the type of cooking required for lamb shoulder. If you can’t find lamb shoulder at your market you can always ask the butcher behind the counter to get one for you.
We’ve served the ragu over pasta, but you could also serve it over polenta or grits. We even used it for tacos, seasoning the ragu to taste with some chile powders (ancho and New Mexico chile powders) and ground cumin.
If the lamb shoulder is in a mesh bag, you’ll want to remove it before cooking. Don’t trim away any of the fat. Any excess fat can be easily removed from the top of the ragu when it has cooled.
Like any braise, this is best served the next day.
Lamb Shoulder Ragu
One boneless lamb shoulder (about 3 pounds)
2 c. sliced carrots (about 4)
1 cup diced onion (1 medium onion)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
Salt and ground black pepper
Olive oil, for cooking
Several sprigs of fresh flat leaf parsley, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary, tied in a bundle.
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Place a 6-quart Dutch oven onto the stove over high heat. Pat the lamb shoulder dry with some paper towels. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, swirl in 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil into the pan. Place the lamb into the pan and brown on all sides; this will take about 10 to 12 minutes. Adjust heat to prevent burning.
2. Remove the lamb shoulder from the pan and set aside. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Drain off all but 2 to 3 tablespoons of fat from the pan.
3. Return the pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots to the pan, season with some salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes to soften the onions. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Push the vegetables to the outside of the pan. Add the tomato paste to the center of the pan; stir and allow the tomato paste to toast for a minute or two then stir the tomato paste into the vegetables.
4. Add the red wine to the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan to release any of the accumulated “brown bits.” Cook to reduce the wine by half. After the wine has reduced, add the tomatoes and rinse the can with 1 cup of water and pour it into the pan. Season the cooking liquid with some additional salt and pepper. Add the herb bundle. Return the lamb shoulder to the pan, nestling it into the liquid. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Place the pot into the oven and cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours, when the lamb is tender and easily pulls apart. Remove from oven and let cool. When the lamb is cool enough to handle, pull the lamb meat into pieces, discarding any fat.
Transfer the lamb and sauce to a bowl; remove and discard the herb bundle. Cover and refrigerate the lamb ragu until needed. Before reheating the lamb, remove any fat that may have accumulated on the surface of the ragu.