French in a Flash: Fall-Apart Lamb with Prunes


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

When I was in Paris for my birthday a few weeks ago, I heard about the Bistrot d'Henri, a local bistro good enough to draw crowds from all over Paris and well beyond, with homestyle French food at reasonable prices. It sounded too good to be true. When Mr. English and I walked over from our hotel and saw the place was half empty, my heart started beating wildly against my ribs. Could I really get a table at a place like this, unannounced, on a Saturday night? The tables were covered with little crocks of braised stews, crispy round whole potatoes, and bottles of wine. It was dark and small and cozy. I wanted it so badly.

"No!" the owner told us—all the empty tables were reserved. "But!" he chimed, calling his friend at another bistro down the street. He walked us over to his friend's bistro, dropped us at the last empty table in Paris that night (or so it seemed) and said his adieus. We both ordered the lamb with prunes off the small menu.

The dish was simple: seared lamb shanks stewed in a delicate wine and broth mixture with sweet onions, garlic, and, of course, prunes. The meat, as a must, was falling off the bone. The prunes added a delicate sweetness, just enough to enhance the sweetness of the onions and garlic and lend a counterbalancing flavor to the lamb and its broth. The onion was so sweet and soft it dissolved in your mouth, and the garlic was so mellow it popped out of its paper like gooey savory paste. It was gorgeous poured over a brick of potatoes Dauphinois. Paris! Will I ever stop being amazed? I sincerely hope not.

Here is my version, which I serve with a light herb-and-orange laced couscous, far less labor-intensive than Dauphinois. This dish is so simple and easy, yet also complex and interesting.

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Fall-Apart Lamb with Prunes »