I first saw Hugh Acheson on Top Chef Masters in 2011 and something about him seemed interesting to me. Possibly the fact that he is Canadian born, with a Southern flair. Maybe it was the unibrow.
When we moved to Atlanta, one of the first things I wanted to do was eating at Empire State South because I knew it was one of Hugh Acheson’s restaurants. We went on many occasions and took dear friends and family members on delicious, out of the ordinary dishes. When we visited Athens, the only event on our agenda was dinner at The National for the same reason.
I was gifted Acheson’s cookbook A New Turn of the South a couple of years ago and loved his esthetic. I even purchased some of his drawings to hang in my tiny kitchen. What can I say, I am fascinated by the man, as a chef and as an artist.
In January, I saw on Instagram that Hugh Acheson would be doing a book signing of his new cookbook, The Chef and The Slow Cooker. I couldn’t miss this opportunity, especially since it was so close to home. A good friend of mine and fellow foodie came along. I was nervous, excited, and as expected, couldn’t come up with one good thing to say when I met the chef I love so much. He was kind, smiling, and agreed to take a photo with us. We left with a few extra goodie and a grin on my smile.
It was such an honor to meet this talented chef. I wish I could have told him something meaningful, but I was little old me, so I just smiled. I couldn’t wait to get back home to browse through the book and try some of his recipes. This was also a fun occasion to test out our Instant Pot as a slow cooker (Yes, it does that too! Although we use this lid when slow cooking).
I decided to make something completely out of my comfort zone: Lamb shanks with orange, Medjool dates and za’atar. I have only eaten lamb a handful of times and never tried to cook it myself. When I saw the flavorful ingredient list, I was hooked.
Now, my biggest mistake when making this dish was my lack of understanding of meat prep. I bought the meat and assumed it could go directly in the pot, without removing the excess skin layer and fat. I cooked it in all its glory and only after hours of cooking did I realize it didn’t look quite right. I removed the shanks from the pot and try to remove the extra stuff for the last hour of slow cooking but I was only partially successful.
Now while this might sound like a failure, the meat was very tender and extremely flavorful. The za’atar, orange and dates went so well together, with the slightly gamey taste of the lamb. It also reminded me to use za’atar more. It is such a lovely seasoning.
While my husband and I both enjoyed the dish, no one fought for a taste more than my trusty assistant chef, Fattie Boo. 😉