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Recipe of the Week: How to braise a spiced lamb shoulder in port, figs

Addie Broyles
Even if you don't have access to fresh figs, you can make this lamb shoulder braised in a ruby port sauce. [Contributed by America's Test Kitchen]

Maybe you already have a corned beef curing in the fridge, but if you don't have anything on the menu for St. Patrick's Day, check out this port-braised lamb from America's Test Kitchen.

It's a rich, impressive main dish that calls for fresh figs, which aren't as readily available in March as they are in June and July, but you could still make this dish without them. The sweetness from the port adds plenty to the coriander- and fennel- spiced lamb, and you'll have leftovers to serve in tacos, on pasta or with roasted potatoes later this week. Serve this dish with a light salad and fresh bread, or go all in on the comfort food angle with mashed potatoes.

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Spiced Lamb Pot Roast with Figs

Less common (and less expensive) than leg of lamb, a lamb shoulder roast is an intensely flavorful cut. It’s ideal for slow braising, which breaks down the collagen and fats that add flavor and body to the cooking liquid, and produces fall-apart tender meat. We found that braising it in the oven — and turning it once halfway through cooking — provided more even heat than cooking on the stovetop, and browning the shoulder first added complex flavors. What really elevated this dish, however, was to simmer the lamb in ruby port along with rosemary and aromatics. After the long braise, the liquid turned rich and deeply flavored. While the lamb rested, we defatted the liquid, reduced it and then stirred in figs, creating a sauce that had a great balance of salty, sweet and tart notes. For even more flavor, and to help the lamb stay juicy throughout cooking, we seasoned the roast inside and out with a mixture of ground coriander, ground fennel seed and salt. A sprinkling of parsley added pleasant freshness. We prefer the subtler flavor and larger size of lamb labeled “domestic” or “American” for this recipe.

— Editors of America's Test Kitchen

1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground fennel

Salt and pepper

1 (4- to 5-pound) boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups ruby port

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

12 ounces fresh figs, stemmed and quartered

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine coriander, fennel, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper in bowl. Place roast with rough interior side (which was against bone) facing up on cutting board and sprinkle with 4 teaspoons spice mixture. Starting from short side, roll roast tightly and tie with kitchen twine at 1-inch intervals. Sprinkle exterior with remaining spice mixture. Transfer to plate, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Pat roast dry with paper towels. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown roast on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to plate.

Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot. Add onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in port, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Return roast to pot, adding any accumulated juices. Add rosemary sprigs, cover and transfer pot to oven. Cook until lamb is tender and fork slips easily in and out of meat, 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours, flipping roast halfway through cooking.

Remove pot from oven. Transfer roast to carving board, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest while finishing sauce. Discard rosemary sprigs and strain braising liquid through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator; reserve solids. Allow braising liquid to settle for 5 minutes. Add defatted braising liquid and reserved solids to now-empty pot and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until slightly thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 10 minutes. Stir in figs and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Discard twine, slice roast into 1/2-inch-thick slices and transfer to serving platter. Spoon sauce over lamb and sprinkle with parsley. Serve.

— From "Cook It in Your Dutch Oven: 150 Foolproof Recipes Tailor-Made for Your Kitchen's Most Versatile Pot" by America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $29.99)