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RBR Tailgating: Braised Lamb Ragu

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Won't someone think of the children?

I'm breaking with what little tradition I have established here. It's been my wont to post recipes before home games that can be followed by the average tailgater armed with a grill, some tongs, and a cooler and to reserve for away games more complex dishes that require the full arsenal of a home kitchen. I'm not doing that this week.

The game against the West Carolina Catamounts is what I consider a kid's game. Before anyone accuses me of disrespecting the Catamounts, reminds me of Gene Stallings' admonition against treating any game as unimportant, or repeats the tenets of the process re focusing on each game, let me point out the apostrophe above. I'm not calling the Catamounts kids, I'm just respecting the market.

One of the great things about the free market is that it exists. You can decry it, vilify it, or otherwise "y" it, but there is no denying its results. It will still be there quietly taking into account the wants, needs, preferences, biases, and superstitions of millions of individuals to arrive at the current worth of any given object.

Fans can respect the Catamounts, pundits can nod sagely at Stallings' wisdom, and the players can focus like a laser, but per inter office emails, last week four tickets for the Alabama vs. Mississippi State game were going for $300 apiece for seats in the upper deck or $1000 for the lot. Via the same source, free tickets to this week's game went to the first responder. This is the game you bring kids to.

It's not that you want to deny a child the experience of an Alabama vs. LSU battle or that memory of Van Tiffin saving the Iron Bowl at the last moment. We all want that for our children. They're the future or whatever. What you don't want to do is spend a full quarter, broken up into multiple trips of course, of the game in line for the bathroom. At $300 a ticket and two of you in line, that's $150 spent keeping your precious angel from obliviously touching some of the most horrible surfaces on the face of the planet. "That sink is really long," says the little urchin.

Game days are different with a child in tow. We leave Birmingham an hour and a half before kick-off. After forty-five minutes of driving, we quickly run to my brother-in-law's fraternity to use the bathroom and so he can make some "new boy" fix us a brutally strong vodka drink and then hit the pavement stadium bound. The kids are excited, but already a bit put out by the car ride. A tailgate would be torture to them.

We march briskly to the stadium, and since this is a kids' game, move about the section to find a seat behind other kids, short people, or empty seats. Here we begin loading the kids down with stadium dogs. "Oohs," and "Ahhs," are had as the game begins and childish excitement builds but so many forces are building in opposition. At this point the adult begins to hold out hope that a) the child is having such a good time that we will stay the whole game or b) the child has his fill of cold, not being able to see over the people in front of him, or simple exhaustion and begs to leave early enough to get a table at Phil's so we can at least watch the game over French fries and amazingly tiny Buffalo wings.

So if you're my age with my aged children a tailgate is not the best idea. You may, and statistically do, live under different, less pop tart, and lego-centric circumstances. Maybe we don't relate. Sorry. As long as I'm repeatedly paraphrasing P.J. O'Rourke this season, we only get to play with the toys we bring. He was describing his experiences with hallucinogens but it fits in here somehow.

So take your kids to this game. "It don't cost nothin'." Relatively.

A weaker writer, having established a "for the kids" motif and used the phrase "new boy" would take this as an opportunity to segue into a discussion of the similarities between the words "Catamounts" and "catamites", but not me. I just want to talk about pasta sauce, and since this week's game is not as conducive to tailgating as most, you may want to listen.

Braised Lamb Ragu

-          2 Lamb Shanks

-          ½ Onion, chopped

-          Celery, chopped and equal in amount to the onion - about two stalks

-          Carrots, ditto - about two

-          1 Red Chili Pepper, chopped

-          4 cloves Garlic, smashed

-          1 28 oz. can peeled Tomatoes, drained of juice

-          ½ bottle of Red Wine, preferably a Rhone blend

-          2 cups chicken stock

-          1 handful Tarragon plus more for garnish

-          Parmesan-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

-          Salt

-          Olive oil

Pour a few glugs of olive oil in a Dutch oven or similar sized pan bring to high heat. Brown the shanks and remove.

Lamb Pasta Browned

Add the onion and cook until translucent, add garlic, carrots, celery, onion, and chili. Cook until aromatic, about five minutes, and then add the wine.

Lamb Pasta Wine

Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan with a spatula or spoon to get those nice burned bits of meat off the surface and into the mix. Reduce heat, add the chicken stock, tomatoes - break them up as best you can - and tarragon.

Lamb Pasta Tarragon

Simmer for five to ten minutes, salt to taste. Return the shanks to the pan. Ideally, the liquid covers the meat, but all that you need is for the liquid to cover the bulk of it. Think icebergs. One tenth above the waterline is fine. Add wine if needed to make up the difference.

Lamb Pasta Braise

Simmer for two hours, turning the meat over after one hour. Remove the shanks and turn this:

Lamb Pasta on The Bone

Into this:

Lamb Pasta Picked Meat

Puree the braising liquid with an immersion blender or in batches in a food processor and then turn up the heat and reduce for ten minutes. Salt to taste and reintroduce the picked meat to the sauce.

Lamb Pasta Puree

Rigatoni, or any other rilled pasta is going to pick this sauce up and stick to it as god intended. I read an old William F. Buckley essay that said that if you don't capitalize the "g" when invoking the deity it's not blasphemy. So back off. He also had an interesting take on "goddam" vs. "G*%&%%n," but this is more of a "g" than a "G" series of posts so let's leave that to the theologians. Pour over pasta, add a garnish of tarragon, and some salty hard cheese.

Braised Lamb Pasta Plated

I'm a gump for tomato sauce. As bizarre as it may seem, to me the perfect remedy to a stressful day is an hour or two over the stove top midwifing a pot of acidic herby goodness. I assume that most who enjoy making such things have their own basic meat sauce. I hope this is a bit of a diversion.

If you're not a pasta fan, do everything I said to do above, but don't pull the meat from the bone. Serve the shank over mashed potatoes with the sauce as gravy. Or pull the meat and serve it on top of toasted bread with loads of saucy goodness. The point is that there are all manner of lesser things you can do with this dish if you don't want to serve it over rigatoni. Let your conscience be your bottom.

Tomorrow, rather than something dangerous like a stout LSU defense, a beefy Arkansas line, a nimble Ole Miss D, lol A&M, a Dak attack, or the pain of an artiste, we face an opponent who's mascot is a lisp away from an ancient underage sex thrall. So let's make this game's meal at home, y'know, for the kids.