The Tail Wags the Dog

For the most part, I plan a meal by carefully putting together all the different parts, making sure no one course is too much like the other, yet they all work together in perfect harmony.

After the menu planning, I start considering the wine to be served. I carefully choose wines for each course, unless someone offers to bring wine.

There are four varietals of wine-bringers.

First, are those who offer to bring wine and ask what we would like them to bring. I like to have a few varietals in mind to make it easier for them so they can choose what best fits the meal, their palate, and budget. When suitable, I offer suggestions in the realm of reds, whites and rosés. (We are equal opportunity imbibers.)

The second type are those who ask what you are serving, because they know their wines and can pick a perfect one for what we are preparing. This is great because we can tell them what's on the menu, with no more than a hint at color and style for each course.

A very special Christmas gift from my friends Laura and Arch.
There is a third type of wine-bringer those who bring a nice bottle and whisper that we must put it aside for ourselves for later.

Finally, some people don't ask what you are serving - they adamantly drink only red wine and will bring that regardless of the menu. For some mysterious reason this curious phenomenon we have not seen among drinkers of whites and rosés.

In that case, it is a bit of the "tail wagging the dog." One knows they are coming, and must plan the menu around their predictable selection.

For today's post, the wine drove the menu, but in a very different way.

We had a glorious bottle of Éternité (2007), a Vacqueyras from Vignerons de Caractère - a gift from our friends Susan and Towny from the Provence WineZine - waiting for just the right meal. In fact, they asked me to write a wine pairing for this wine to publish in the WineZine. Alors, I read up on the wine, and learned it to be full-bodied and fruit forward, with a nice slow finish. Wag. Wag. Wag. 

My very first thought for this wine was to serve lamb. A grilled butterflied leg would be perfect. Or maybe roasted? Simple grilled chops are always nice, but these would be no real fun for me in the kitchen.

Then it occurred to me - I had never braised a lamb shank! This is a culinary negligence, as I love braised lamb shanks. Thus started the research and final recipe creation.

When it comes down to it, braising, is braising, is braising (thank you, Gertrude Stein). There are any number if ways it can be done: with vegetables or without, tomato or wine, with lots of herbs or just a simple bouquet garni. One key ingredient for me was to make sure the acidity was appropriate to help break down the muscle fibers.

I opted to start with a very traditional French mirepoix, plus tomatoes, broth, wine, and a bouquet garni. For zing and a little texture, I added citrus zest and some oil-cured olives toward the end. The earthy, olive-studded, citrus-infused sauce was just the comfort food we needed to go with this wine, and to keep us warm on a chilly, drizzly winter's day.

A reveire! ("See you soon," in Provençal dialect)


Lamb Shanks Provençal

1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
4 lamb shanks - about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 cup white wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes, divided
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig with three bay leaves
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup oil-cured olives, pitted and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour and paprika on a large, flat plate. Season lamb shanks generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge lamb shanks in flour-paprika and set on a plate.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large paella or other frying pan with a tight-fitting ovenproof cover. When the oil is shimmering and easily coats the bottom of the pan, add the shanks and brown on each side until golden - about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove shanks from the pan and set aside on a plate.

Add the mirepoix - onions, carrot, and celery - and sauté for about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the wine, 1 cup crushed tomatoes, and citrus zests to the pan. Stir, and bring to a simmer; cook about 5 minutes, until somewhat thickened.

Meanwhile, tie together thyme sprigs, rosemary and bay leaves to make a bouquet garni. Add to the pan along with the stock. Stir, and bring to a simmer.

Add lamb shanks, cover the pan, and place in the oven. Braise (covered) for about 3 hours, turning shanks every half hour, until lamb is completely tender. After 2 1/2 hours, add the pitted olives.

After the three hours, remove lamb shanks to a warmed plate and cover with foil. Remove bouquet garni and discard. Bring pan with sauce to a simmer. Skim off as much fat as possible. Add remaining 1 cup crushed tomatoes and reduce heat until sauce thickens.

Serve lamb shanks on polenta or mashes potatoes with a good helping of the sauce on top.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.


  1. I always have a preference to red, but enjoy white in the warmer months. My better half, however, rarely drinks anything other than sauvignon blanc - preferably from New Zealand. So fussy.

    I rarely make lamb shanks, myself. Not because I dislike them, but because I forget about them. It's osso bucco here, tonight. It may be summer and rather warm in Sydney, but I never let the seasons get in the way of my cravings. And seeing your creamy polenta means that I have a craving for that now, as well!

    1. We are tri-vino. We drink lots of reds and whites, and then (mostly) French/Provençal rosés in the summer. I really cannot limit myself to one kind of wine. Life is too short eh?

      John - we are also big fans of osso buco. And we make them year-round because usually we don't have cold weather. We have to pretend by putting on the AC in the summer. Sad, huh? Hope you made a nice creamy polenta. We ended up with a mushroom risotto laced with Madeira tonight. Creamy, too, but not so much as the polenta.

  2. Yummy! We love lamb and all three colors of wine! This looks like a perfect Sunday dinner for a chilly night.

    1. You got it, Nicole! That is exactly why we had it - perfect for the few chilly nights we get here in AZ!

  3. We never really have a problem with people bringing wine ;) On the other hand, I do have a problem with people bringing mediocre or store bought desserts...no no, no!! Oh well, I guess it's the thought that counts....I wish I was worth more thought!!
    Anyway...I haven't made braised shanks either, not lamb ones. I've done ossso buco. My father loves braised lamb shanks but we end up getting them at Middle Eastern restaurants usually. When we went to Houston in August for end of Ramadan, the celebratory holiday dinner was a huge tray of about 50 braised lamb shanks...one for each family member....I had chicken :) Just not a fan of lamb, as you know.
    But for lamb lovers, braised lamb shanks are divine! Great job with these David, I can see how meltingly tender they are, and the rich sauce is beautiful. Bye, I LOVE your measuring spoons and cups, so unique and so beautiful. Take care David xx

    1. The thing I love about your comment, Nazneen? You don't drink and you don't like lamb, yet you took the time to write such a nice comment. Thank you so much! Next time you are heading to a lamb feast, let me know and I will go in your stead! :)

      I love the cups and spoons, too... amazing that I can fit anything else in my kitchen!

  4. This dish looks so yummy and serving it with that Red from Vacqueyras sounds perfect. I am salivating!

    I am so happy that you will be matching up some of your wonderful culinary creations with the terrific wines from Provence--once a month, on the first Saturday! I am already having so much fun and we've just begun!

    1. I do hope you try the shanks soon, Susan - maybe you even have a bottle of the Vacqueryas to go with it? I think we are going to have fun pairing wines and food...

  5. Where can I find the a Sea of Cortez salt - I live in Tucson

    1. Hi - as you may have seen, it was a Christmas gift. But I called my friends and they got it at a shop called BON in Broadway Village, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Country Club.

  6. An interesting and thought provoking read, David... we stopped drinking as much in the last 12 months or so... I feel a little ashamed to say that these days we will often arrive with some mineral water... although we do take wine, chocolates or some fresh produce from the garden... it makes us sound cheap, doesn't it... but we're not really. Love a good lamb shank... I could chew the fat on these, easily!

    1. Liz - we always want people to come and enjoy and bring nothing. Most people insist! I should have said that - I might go back and edit.

      Your gifts from the garden are the nicest gift a host could receive - homegrown produce and flowers are the highest compliment to me and Markipedia. As the gardener, he definitely think this! And chocolates always fit (unfortunately my pants don't!)...

      Thanks fro a wonderful and thoughtful comment!

  7. Oh I bet my husband would love this....if only I like lamb..oh dear. As always the pictures are lovely and the text so interesting. Love getting your blog every week.

    1. Thanks, Jill - I wish you liked lamb, too - I would love to make this for you! Thanks for reading, as always!

  8. What a fun post. I've never gotten good at wine paring. I go to my favorite wine shop, tell them my menu, and they help me. Recipe looks delicious, and I am in love with those awesome measuring cups and spoons. So cool!

    1. That is a great way to pair wines, Valentina! Glad you like the cups and spoons - they were from Anthropologie.

  9. You are so right about the wine-bringers, I love wine that has been paired with selection, I have been introduced to so many lovely flavors that way. Happy week-end to you!

    1. I agree, Kathy - I would have never fallen in love with Malbec or Grenache Blanc had it not been for friends who brought them to dinner!

  10. I love a good lamb dish and this looks and sounds fabulous; reminds me of a cacciatore. I'm with Valentina, not a good "pairer" beyond the basics, but I love this post! I do prefer red wine, but drink white when red just won't work. For example, I made Tartiflette tonight and drank white. Btw, LOVE your measuring spoons and cups, too!

    1. Ooh - I haven't had a Tartflette in ages! Now I want one! :) I think people should simply drink what tastes good to them - sometimes a white works well with beef, and a red with fish... it's all good, as long as it's good!

  11. There is another category of wine guests. Those that volunteer to bring a bottle and then forget. Oddly these are some of my best friends. Because really my BF Ken prefers to make the pairings himself. GREG

    1. And, as Ken is such a wizard at the pairing, and you with the food, I think - should we ever receive an invite - that I would bring you a ridiculously beautiful bouquet of flowers.


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