Last week, a very special guest graced our Test Kitchen: Thomas Keller, chef and owner of acclaimed restaurants The French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc. Keller joined us for an exclusive live webcast, demonstrating an essential braising technique known as “a la matignon” for web audiences. If you missed it, don’t worry — you can find the whole video below, along with a recap of our top takeaways from the demo and Chef Keller’s answers to all of the audience’s questions.
Roasting “a la matignon” is a technique in which meat is cooked with finely diced and sauteed vegetables, which creates a sauce and imparts an aromatic quality to the dish. It’s a great alternative to braising, as the vegetables and meat juices themselves create the stock and sauce, enhancing moistness. In this demonstration, Keller uses lamb shanks, but he emphasized that the same technique works with a variety of cuts and seasonings. Here are some of the most important lessons we learned as we watched.
1. Mind your mise en place. This French phrase refers to having everything in its place, and it’s one of the best habits for cooks to develop. Preheat your ovens with racks arranged how you want them, and prep all of your ingredients before you get started cooking.
2. Use quality ingredients. This point should come as no surprise, but it bears repeating: for exceptional results, start with exceptional ingredients, like the Purebred lamb Keller uses here.
3. Know your oils. Keller uses canola oil here instead of olive oil, which is a waste of money for this technique — the heat will destroy the flavors. Plus, canola oil has a higher smoke point, which is ideal for searing.
4. Sear like a pro. Before you brown the lamb, make sure the meat is tempered and dry and seasoned on all sides with salt and pepper at the last minute. Preheat the pan so it’s fully hot when you’re ready to begin; if the pan is too cold, the meat will steam and stew, but if it’s too hot it will burn. Sear the lamb in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
5. Capture the best flavor. As the meat sears, it releases juices, which caramelize on the bottom of the pan. This is one of the most significant sources of color, flavor and complexity of the finished dish. To capture it, after you remove the shanks and pour off the fat from the pan, return the pan to the heat and add a small amount of liquid — water, wines, stocks, juices and vinegars will work. Use a wooden spoon to scrape off the glaze, and boil the liquid to dissolve it; as the liquid boils and reduces, its flavor will concentrate.
6. Salt your vegetables. When you add salt to vegetables as they sweat, it not only seasons the vegetables but also releases their moisture, contributing to the braising liquid and final sauce.
7. Use the right pan. Here, Keller cooks the lamb and vegetables in the All-Clad Essential Pan, which is narrow and tall. It has plenty of space for searing, but its narrow base also ensures that all of the ingredients are contained and the meat stays nestled in the matignon vegetables. It also has a lid, which prevents moisture from escaping as the lamb and vegetables cook. Shallow sides allow the steam to rise around the edges, while the convex shape of the lid pushes the condensation back into the contents of the pan, basting them.
8. Let the meat rest. It’s important to let the lamb rest for about half an hour after it’s finished cooking; the resting period allows the meat to re-absorb moisture and keeps it perfectly tender. Plus, it gives you time to prepare your side dishes.
9. Remove excess fat. For the best texture, appearance and refinement, you should remove the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. Let it settle so the fat rises to the surface, then skim it off with a small ladle or spoon. Alternatively, use a gravy separator.
10. Control the consistency. You can reduce the cooking liquid to create your ideal consistency and flavor, but let flavor be your benchmark, not consistency. A highly reduced sauce can be salty or cloying. It’s better to thicken a too-thin sauce that at its ideal flavor rather than to try to correct the flavors of an over-reduced sauce.
During the webcast, we gave viewers the opportunity to ask Chef Keller questions about his recipe and process. For the ones he didn’t get to, we followed up for more answers! Read on to learn what he had to say.
What are the some must-have ingredients to have on hand for great weeknight cooking?
It really boils down to what YOU like to eat! But for me, I always have a clean non-iodized salt for general seasoning such as kosher salt, a high quality extra-virgin olive oil for finishing, quality vinegars or citrus juice. These will help elevate the flavors of whatever you cook. To finish, I like a coarse sea salt such as sel gris for meats and Maldon salt for seafood. Combined with freshly ground pepper, they are great final seasonings that will add detail and elegance to what you prepare.
What is a good 2 piece beginner @AllClad set that @Chef_Keller suggests from @WilliamsSonoma for housewarming gift?
The two-piece All-Clad stainless skillet set sold at Williams Sonoma is very nice as a gift. For versatility’s sake, I suggest purchasing an All-Clad copper core 10”-12” skillet and the 4-qt. Essential pan, as they will offer a greater variety of foods and techniques that the cook can prepare and use.
What should I look for when I am buying lamb shank for the best results?
There really isn’t too much variation in the actual “cut” of the lamb shank. Therefore, it is best to seek lamb that is produced by a conscientious, ethical farmer who raises the lamb in a humane and healthy manner. I have selected the lamb from Keith Martin at Elysian Fields Farm and Purebred to be used at all of my restaurants for this very reason. Additionally, it goes without saying that the lamb should be fresh, should not be sitting in an abnormal amount of liquid or be too discolored when making the selection.
Does @Chef_Keller have a preference for home cooking: gas or induction top?
Both gas and induction have their merits, and it depends on what is most important to you when making the decision to choose one over another. An entry level gas range and especially an entry level induction range are really going to provide fairly marginal performance, so it is very important to consider this when shopping for a range. Generally speaking, a gas range will provide better performance for the money, as induction surfaces tend to be much more expensive. Gas stoves have the most “soul” and offer the widest range of adjustability of heat. Gas appliances are simple and reliable. Induction ranges are really great in many ways because they do not radiate excess heat, are extremely easy to clean, safe and heat pans very quickly. I have found that entry level induction units tend to go from very low heat to very high heat with less adjustability in the middle. Another point to note is that induction burners require compatible cookware in order for them to function. Last, it is important to invest in heavy cookware with uniform thickness, regardless of whether you are using gas or induction, to avoid hot spots and to get the most control and efficient use of the heat.
#itsallabouttechnique can you leave it in the pot overnight or transfer to a different container?
You can leave the lamb in the pot without any issues. If you are going to store for a long period of time, I suggest transferring the contents to a plastic container with a lid to prevent the lamb from drying out. If you do decide to chill the lamb overnight in the refrigerator, remove the fat after it has hardened on the surface before reheating, as it will be very easy to do at this point.
@Chef_Keller If you aren’t a fan of lamb shank, could you apply this technique and recipe to some other cut of meat?
Absolutely! This technique works great with short ribs, pork shoulders or any cut of meat that requires long slow, moist cooking. The cooking times may have to be adjusted, so it is important to test the meat for doneness.
#itsallabouttechnique why bundle the herbs. Will you remove? if so, why?
This is a very good question.From a practical standpoint, if I wanted to serve the vegetables, removing the bundle of herbs is much easier than picking out the individual stems and also prevents the stems from becoming attached to the surface of the meat. If you weren’t planning on serving the vegetables, you don’t have to bundle the herbs; it won’t affect the flavor in any way. My personal preference is to always tie herbs in a bundle in instances such as these as it is very easy to do and promotes refinement and elegance of technique.
See the full recipe for Thomas Keller’s Lamb Shanks Roasted “a la Matignon” here.