Alibi V.13 No.53 • Dec 30-Jan 5, 2004 

Chef Recipes

Chardonnay-braised lamb shank with leek risotto, root vegetables and natural reduction

From Chef James P. O'Brien III of Milagro Grill and Brewery

James O'Brien is a restless traveler. Milagro's new chef grew up in St. Louis, but has since worked in Memphis, Louisville and Atlanta, and attended culinary school in Vermont. O'Brien's wife was eight months pregnant when he decided to quit his high-paying corporate chef job and take a chance on relocating to the Southwest. After six months spent cooking at the Sheraton Old Town, O'Brien decided to settle down in the kitchen at Milagro Grill and Brewery in Bernalillo. “I walked through the door and my jaw dropped,” the chef says of his first visit to the restaurant. “I thought hands down this was the most beautiful restaurant I'd seen since I've been in New Mexico.” Milagro's menu, on the other hand, presented an inviting challenge. To O'Brien, it looked like the menu had been written by three different people—none of whom agreed with each other. He started work immediately on a dinner menu that would present a clear vision of elegant but rustic food; dishes that are creative but approachable. This Chardonnay-braised lamb shank is one of the chef's favorite dishes from his new menu, which debuted just a few weeks ago. The crispness of the Chardonnay helps to counter any gaminess in the meat so that even diners unfamiliar with lamb will be wooed.

Chardonnay-braised lamb

For this recipe, choose a lean, steely Chardonnay over one that's oaky, creamy or buttery. If your regular grocery store doesn't carry lamb shanks, Arborio rice or demi-glace, check Whole Foods (Wyoming and Academy), Keller's Farm stores (Eubank and Candelaria or Coors and Montaño), or Tully's (San Mateo and Constitution).
Serves 4


2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper or red chile powder

1 tablespoon kosher salt

6 lamb shanks

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided in half

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large yellow onions, chopped

3 celery ribs, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

3 garlic cloves

1 (750 ml.) bottle Chardonnay

1 cup demi-glace or beef stock

10 cups good chicken stock

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley


1) Preheat oven to 375°.

2) Mix the flour, cayenne or chile pepper and salt thoroughly. Dredge the lamb shanks in the seasoned flour to coat lightly.

3) In a heavy-bottomed roasting pan or oven-safe pot over medium high heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter with 1/4 cup olive oil. Add lamb shanks and brown evenly, on all sides.

4) Remove lamb from the pan and add onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Stir constantly until vegetables are softened and browned.

5) Place the lamb shanks back in the pan on top of the vegetables and deglaze with 1 1/2 cups wine.

6) Reduce wine by half. Add demi-glace and enough chicken stock to almost cover the lamb. Bring to a boil. Add bay leaf and thyme sprigs, cover with a tight fitting lid, and transfer the pan to the oven.

7) Braise in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, turning the lamb after 2 hours to cook evenly.

8) When the lamb is tender enough to be pulled off the bone with a fork, carefully remove it from the roasting pan and strain the liquid into a sauce pot. Reduce the liquid until it is sauce consistency and swirl in 4 tablespoons butter.

9) When the lamb, risotto and vegetables are all cooked, evenly distribute risotto between 6 large bowls. Arrange roasted vegetables on top of the rice. Stand lamb shanks on top of rice, and ladle sauce into each bowl. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Leek Risotto

Make the risotto while the lamb is in the oven. Enjoy the remaining wine while you're at it.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large leek cut lengthwise, washed and sliced thin

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

1 cup Chardonnay

3 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese


1) In a large skillet, melt butter with olive oil over medium heat and sauté leeks until tender.

2) Add rice and stir until all rice is coated and becomes translucent. Add wine and remaining thyme sprigs.

3) Reduce liquid by half, and stir constantly while adding chicken stock a little at a time. Continue to add stock until rice is tender and creamy. Fold in Parmesan cheese.

4) Remove from heat, cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Root Vegetables


2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large carrots, diced (yes, another 2 carrots)

2 large parsnips, peeled and diced

1 large turnip, peeled and diced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2-1 cup chicken stock


1) In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil. Sauté diced carrots, parsnips and turnip over high heat until slightly brown, season with salt and pepper and deglaze the pan with any remaining chicken stock. Cook until the pan is dry.