EDISON, NJ - My wife asked me to make lamb for her birthday recently, so I gave it some thought and decided to make lamb shanks. Lamb shanks are great braised and the slow cooking in a sauce is a perfect complement to the coming colder weather. Here, I used a red wine and homemade veal stock as the braising liquid and complemented that with an assortment of herbs and vegetables. Braising takes a while to do…hours really. However, it’s a great thing to do on a leisurely weekend where you have a few hours. Once you sear the meat and brown the vegetables, the rest of the work is done with the pot covered and simply allowing it to simmer away until the meat becomes tender and the liquid thickened and reduced. I served the lamb shanks over a puree of cauliflower (my wife’s request and it was great) and a quick sauté of some kale. However, you can certainly serve this with polenta, pasta, mashed potatoes or a root vegetable mash. Grains would be great here too. Really, anything that can stand up to a strong, thick liquid would be perfect.
Browning/searing process of the meat and the vegetables is key for a great braised dish. It’s really in those two steps that a large amount of the flavor of the dish is developed. So, don’t skimp on these steps. Take your time here and the entire dish will definitely benefit from the effort.
I used wine and stock as my braising liquids. If you don’t have homemade stock, no need to go buy some. Simply use the wine and add a bit of water to make up the difference. You’ll be better off using something pure like water than using the chemical laden stocks that are sold in the grocery stores. If you don’t have wine, beer braising works too. Really you can let your imagination run wild with this. Traditionally, however, wine and stock are it…and I’d certainly recommend it as a starting point.
Lamb Shanks (1 per serving)
1 Bottle red wine
1 Quart Veal Stock (or water)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Onion, chopped coarsely
4 Leeks, cleaned and chopped finely
4 Carrots, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 Stalks Celery, chopped coarsely
4 Cloves garlic, chopped or sliced thinly
3 Fresh Bay Leaves
2 Tablespoons dried thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
Grapeseed oil (enough to coat pan)
Kosher salt and red pepper flakes to taste
2 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped for garnish
- One hour prior to cooking, remove lamb shanks from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
- Chop all vegetables and place together in bowl.
- Gather remaining ingredients to have handy as everything will go quickly at first.
- When ready to begin, dry lamb shanks with a paper towel and coat with kosher salt on all sides.
- Place a large braising pan/Dutch oven on medium high heat and allow to heat for a few minutes. Once pan is heated, add grapeseed oil to coat the bottom of the pan. The oil should just begin to smoke. Once that happens, carefully add the lamb shanks to the pan. Brown lamb shanks on all sides, turning every few minutes until all sides become darkly browned, but not black. (You may need to turn the temperature down as you continue browning the lamb to avoid burning it).
- Once lamb is browned on all sides, remove the shanks from the pan and place all vegetable except the garlic into the pan. Add a pinch or two of kosher salt. Move the vegetables around the pan with a wooden spoon scraping the bottom of the pan as you go. Continue to cook the vegetables until they become browned or deeply golden.
- Once you have browned the vegetables, add the tomato paste and the garlic to the pan. Add the thyme, rosemary, and sage as well. Cook another couple minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
- Turn off the heat and add the wine. Turn the fire back on to medium heat and scrape the pan. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Allow to boil and reduce until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Add a quart of stock to the pan. Place the lamb shanks back in the pan. Bring liquid back to boil.
- Once the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to low/simmer and cover. Cook for one hour.
- After an hour, check the liquid level. The lamb should be almost submerged. Add more liquid if necessary. Turn lamb shanks over.
- Cook another hour, checking liquid levels and turning.
- The shanks should be ready after 2.5 to 3 hours of simmering. To check for doneness, simply pull a small part of the meat away from the bone. If it comes off without much effort, the shanks are finished.
- Remove shanks from pan and set aside. Turn heat to high and reduce liquid to sauce, stirring frequently to avoid having the vegetables burn.
- Once liquid has reduced into the consistency of a sauce, taste and add salt to taste. Add a dash of red pepper flakes. Place shanks back in sauce to rewarm a bit. Coat shanks with sauce on all sides.
Ladle some of the vegetables from the sauce into a bowl. Then add some of the liquid over the vegetables. Top with the lamb shanks. Sprinkle the chives over the top of everything. Serve immediately.