Lamb shank confit: The results
When I decided to make lamb shank confit, the first question that occurred to me was, “What makes confit different from any other braise?” Once upon a time, I probably would have answered that it was the cooking medium, a confit being cooking in fat rather than a water-based liquid such as wine or stock. But studies done by the Modernist Cuisine team have suggested there’s no noticeable difference between a confit (duck, in their case) cooked in fat and one cooked sous vide, then dressed with fat. (Obviously, if you didn’t add some fat in the latter case, the flavour difference would immediately be apparent.)
So I mentally ran through the confit process step by step, and it struck me: the difference was in salting the meat beforehand. (“Confit,” after all, is simply French for “preserved,” and salt is a great preservative.) Which is how I arrived at the decision to cure the lamb shanks before cooking them, even though I knew it could lead to textural problems down the road.
To serve, I reheated the previously-cooked-and-chilled lamb shanks in a hot water bath, then seared them quickly in a hot skillet. I cooked up some lentils and made a parsley salad with shallots, roasted red peppers and a pimentón vinaigrette to go alongside.
Verdict? Well, this was my first time cooking lamb shanks sous vide. I used the table in Modernist Cuisine to choose my time and temperature (5 hours at 85°C/185°F), opting for a temp that would produce a fairly traditional texture. Even at that, though, they were slightly chewier than I would have liked. The flavour of the salt cure came through beautifully, though, and the meat had a lovely rosy colour from either the cure, the long-time low-temp cooking, or both. I wouldn’t say this dish was a home run, but it will definitely be worth revisiting.