If you take the bible, especially its older testament, as literal truth — if you believe that there are credible historical figures contained within its pages — then you already know that woman and man, but mainly man, as they were the priests, have been eating meat, especially lamb, at least since Abrahamic times. That’s going back to the second millennium BCE, maybe more.
Abraham, you may recall, almost cut the throat of his second son Isaac, just to please his lord and prove his faith, and he would have if it were not for the flukish appearance of a free range ram who happened to be caught by the horns in a thicket of tamarisk — caught at the right time and at the right place as far as Isaac was concerned. We don’t know for sure if Abraham gave a toss either way, but God said to him: Get the ram instead! He did and they ate it, he and his son together.
Abraham later built a stone altar, basically an outdoor kitchen in the desert, to sacrifice animals — rams, lambs, calves and birds. The animals were roasted and eaten by the priests who were all men. They lived well. Abraham lived to the ripe age of 175 and he ate a lot of meat.
However, it was not your modern-day supermarket meat, which is raised — some would say manufactured — in supersized indoor, artificially lit-facilities, kind of like modern-day fulfillment centers.
Even though Abraham had at least eight kids — he sired Issac at a hundred or so, and Sara bore him some months later at a nimble ninety, quite a feat by today’s standards — the population pressures and market demand for meat were different in those days.
They didn’t speed-raise cattle in controlled animal feedlot operations (no mention of CAFO’s in the bible). They weren’t fed an unnatural diet of grain, supplemented with growth hormones for increased muscle mass, or given a daily drip of antibiotics in the water supply for weight gain and to ward off pestilence and plague. And if they ate pork at all they didn’t raise their pigs indoors in multitudes, confining the pregnant females to gestation crates, as present day Iowanese are wont to do.
Really, it was more like the farmers market meat of today or hunters’ meat culled from the wild. Abraham’s ram was raised to roam in pastured spaces without fences, with room to graze on roots and shoots of wild rosemary and onions, and was slaughtered humanely with his crude but lethal blade, and his 100 and something year old, but still agile hands, and it tasted better, if a touch more gamey, than today’s supermarket meat — if you can believe the bible stories.
I don’t know if we can eat as Abraham did. I don’t know if we’d want to, but when I sit down to eat a lamb shank, a hunk of meat slowly cooked on the bone and displayed primitively on the plate with massive bone intact, I think of two things: Abraham in his outdoor kitchen and Fred Flintstone in his. Now there was a credible historical figure.
4 Lamb Shanks rubbed well with salt and pepper
2 Cups chicken or beef stock
Half bottle of red wine
A few bay leaves
A sprig or two of rosemary
1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns
Water or more stock or wine to cover.
Season the shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides in fat in a heavy pot with a lid. Drain off and discard excess fat. Add stock/wine/water mixture to cover. If you don’t have wine around, you can leave it out. Add bay leaves, rosemary and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Cover and put in the oven at 300F (150C) for about 4 hours, or until the meat is soft and barely clinging to the bone. Check occasionally that the pot is simmering gently, if it is boiling, turn down the heat a little, if it is not, increase a little.
When the shanks are done, turn off the oven, remove carefully from the pot and store them in the oven to keep warm. Strain the stock/braising liquid (discard the rosemary, bay and peppercorns). Wash out the pot, pour the stock back in and bring it to a boil. Cook at a medium simmer and skim off any fat that arises.
Once the fat has been removed you can bring it to a steady boil. Reduce it until it’ll coat the shanks nicely. Taste it and add salt if needed. Spoon this reduction over the warm shanks and give a couple of twists of black pepper if you like. I made these with chanterelle mushrooms and cannellini beans with fennel and leeks.