Saturday, November 26, 2016

Souris d'Agneau - Lamb Shank. Souris d'Agneau, Lamb Shank, is One of the Tastiest Lamb Dishes on a French Menu.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated May 2018.
Souris d’Agneau - A lamb shank
Souris d’Agneau is a dish made with a cut from close to the end of a leg of lamb, the shank. In France this dish is always prepared and served with the bone left in; the bone and bone marrow provides lots of flavors. A lamb shank is another of those cuts that were, until recently, rarely offered to those who dined in restaurants. The restaurateurs and chefs prepared the more expensive cuts for their guests; the souris d’agneau and similar cuts were looked upon as food for the farmers and farm workers. However, the farmers knew that this low-cost cut makes a delicious dish; it would be cooked slowly and naturally with no celebrity chef required.  

 In the last few years or so there has been a minor revolution in French cuisine with a quite a number of well-trained chefs leaving their position as the second in command in an acclaimed restaurant to open their own venue. They brought to France’s rather blasé restaurant clientele new, succulent,  and, relatively, inexpensive dishes.  In a very short time, souris d’agneau was starring for  France’s gourmets.
The choicest cuts of lamb and beef are the fillets; they are cuts from the tenderloin. The tenderloins are muscles that do little work and hence are very tender; unfortunately, on their own, these cuts have little taste.  To justify the high prices on the menu and provide taste a fillet will be prepared with a sauce and often served with expensive extras.   Whereas, the shank being a leg muscle that does lots of work will be delicious but tough: for that reason, a souris d’agneau, the lamb shank, is always prepared as part of a stew or a very slowly cooked confit and the meat will be soft and the taste exceptional.
While a souris d’agneau is quickly prepared to achieve its potential it is a dish that takes hours to cook, and not every home cook wants to spend hours checking on a single dish in the kitchen.  Souris d’agneau really is a recipe designed for restaurants; they have the time and the staff to control the slow process. The souris d’agneau, correctly prepared, will be cooked very slowly. on a low heat, in its own fat and juices. The slow, low, heat breaks down the muscle and other tissues. The meat will practically melt in your mouth with all the taste locked in, and that’s the beauty of a souris d’agneau.

Lamb shanks on French menus:

Souris D’Agneau Braisée 4 Heures, Jus Corsé aux Senteur des Garrigues, Légumes Rôtis Et Pomme Fondante  -  A lamb shank braised for four hours and served with its Jus Corse, its natural cooking juices flavored with the herbs of the Garrigues. Accompanying the lamb are roast vegetables and roast potatoes. The word Fondante in “Pomme de Terre Fondante” is another case where your French-English travel dictionary may unintentionally mislead you.  Fondant does mean melted when translated correctly; however, when used with potatoes fondante will be indicating that the potatoes will have been roasted, with flavorings that can vary as the chef may choose a medley of herbs that provide the seasoning and scents from the Garrigues.

The Garrigues.
The Garrigues are the windswept deforested limestone hills that run from Languedoc-Roussillon to the Alpilles and Maquis of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. The Alpilles, Garrigues and the Maquis now attract farmers who see the most desolate or scrub filled hills as a challenge. The farmers collect wild herbs and spices on their unique properties, and they are reintroducing other herbs that had been decimated by the wind in these practically treeless promontories.  These farmers also raise goats and sheep for their milk and cheese. Life is returning to the Alpilles, Garrigues and the Maquis.  N.B. The regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and its neighbor the Midi-Pyrénées are since 1-1-2016 joined together as the super region of Occitanie. 

Souris d'Agneau à la Flamande, à la Gueuze Girardin et aux Raisins –  A lamb shank prepared in the manner of the Flemish.  The Flemish or Fleming people are the Dutch-speaking Belgians mostly living in the North of Belgium. This version of souris d’agneau is flavored with a  “gueuze”  beer and grapes.  This is a Belgian beer produced by a brewery called Girardin.  Their “gueuze” beer, I was told, is made from distilled beers from different years and comes in filtered and unfiltered versions. However, I am not an expert on Belgian beers or any other beer for that matter, and so you will need to ask the waiter for more information. On the other hand with Belgium producing over 650 different beers you should buy a book on Belgian beer. 
There are many Belgian chain restaurants in France;  most specialize in serving excellent moules frites, mussels and French fries, chips, accompanied by fresh mayonnaise.  These Belgian imports also serve Belgian beer. So a book on Belgium beer can come in handy even in France.   (For the link on how to order beer in France, including Belgian beer click here).
Girardin 1882 Geuze Beer
Photograph courtesy of Bernt Rostad
Souris d’Agneau Confite Ecrasé de Pommes de Terre et Confit d’Oignons -  A lamb shank slowly cooked and served with hand-mashed potatoes and a confit of onions.  Once again your French-English travel dictionary may create a translation problem. “Ecrasé de Pommes de Terre” may translate as crushed potatoes, but worry not, the potatoes will be hand-mashed not crushed.  The menu listing here is accenting the difference between these hand-mashed potatoes with texture and regular machine-mashed potatoes that are just pureed potatoes.   N.B.  A confit of vegetables, noted in this menu listing as a confit d’oignons, is very different to a lamb or other meat confit.  A vegetable or a fruit confit is slowly cooked until it achieves the consistency of a jam.  (To see the link covering the broad range of uses of the word confit in French cuisine click here).
Souris d'Agneau Braisé, Jus au Romarin et Haricots Tarbais – Lamb shank braised and served in its natural cooking juices flavored with the herb rosemary and accompanied by the Label Rouge, red label, Tarbais beans. The town of Tarbes has been growing and improving on their white dried beans since the first beans arrived in Tarbes from South America in the 17th century.  If you are near Tarbes between mid-august to October, you may be offered the fresh variety of these beans, but throughout France, other restaurants will be offering the highly rated Tarbaise rehydrated dried white beans.  The Tarbes beans were the first white dried bean to receive a Label Rouge grading for their unique and consistent quality. Tarbes is in the department of the Hautes-Pyrénées in what was the region of the Midi-Pyrénées. The Midi-Pyrénées’ is now part of the super region of Occitanie.

Haricot Tarbais Label Rouge.
Photograph courtesy of Keldelice.
Souris d'Agneau Mijotée, Concassé de Tomates Fraîches, Jus au Thym A lamb shank slowly simmered and served with the lamb’s natural cooking juices flavored with thyme, accompanied by coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes. (Mijotée in French cuisine indicates a dish that is simmered in its cooking process, being slowly cooked just below boiling.  The word is often, as is the case here, interchangeable with the word “braise “braised).
Souris d’Agneau with polenta and olives
Souris d'Agneau Confite et Son Risotto Parmigiano  -  Lamb shank confit served with a risotto flavored with Parmesan cheese,
Duck, Goose and Pork confits as well a fruit and vegetable confits are prepared differently to confits of lamb.  For more about the various confits that may be on your menu click here.
A problem that may arise when considering whether to order a souris d’agneau may again be blamed on your French-English dictionary.  French- English dictionaries correctly translate souris as a mouse!  That may give you second thoughts about ordering a souris d'agneau.   Despite the dictionary, worry not, there are no mice here, and there never were.   Someone, eons ago, decided that the cut looked like a mouse or a rat and the name souris stuck.  The French have hundreds of names for food dishes that have nothing to do with the dishes they are associated with, and the souris d’agneau is one of them. A confit de souris d’agneau is one of the tastiest lamb dishes you will ever have tasted, so don’t miss out.
Souris d'Agneau @ Hôtel Restaurant Coulier
A serving of souris d’agneau with the bone will be around 350 grams (12 ounces) or maybe a little more; the bone takes 50%  - 60% of the weight, that’s about 170 grams (6 ounces) of meat: it is an acceptable size for a dish like this and despite that I have seen this dish served  with a portion that must have been 50% larger. Ask.

N.B. The cut used for a lamb osso buco, the French jarret d’agneau is a cut across the bone from slightly higher up the leg. 

Souris d’Agneau in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan -   melos de xai ), (Dutch - lamsschenkel ), (German – lammschenkel), (Italian - stinco di agnello ribalta  ), (Spanish - pata de cordero)
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2018
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