Braised Lamb Shanks
Happy New 2011 Year to all!

My husband and his step-father customarily take a New Year’s Day walk. He lives in the city, so they usually choose a park halfway between. In the early days, J’s mother and I would join them, with their very large dog, Theo. This is the first holiday in our new house, so S. and J. made a walking exploration of our new town. The unseasonably (50°F) warm weather broke in time for their adventure to be traditionally cold. They warmed up in Sidetrack Bar & Grill; I suppose a glass of local beer warms the spirit at least. I stayed warm and cozy preparing dinner in the kitchen, though I had to go out to buy a can opener—
—we’ve come to a point where some things are here, some there…
some things go as planned, some things just work themselves out…
I’ll confess: I served “leftovers” to guests. Twice.
Lamb was on sale at such a good price that I bought a nice leg of lamb for the holidays. But J’s out-of-town job was not finished as planned, so I went back to the store and bought lamb shanks because they can be braised and the leftovers freeze beautifully. I put the uncooked leg into the freezer at the Gingko house.
My sister is taking care of our dad in her apartment, but her care-giver’s father had a heart attack and she needed J. to get him into and out of bed. Christmas dinner would be at her place! The leg of lamb was frozen solid. So I bought another. But as I was braising the shanks, I thought that my sister might not like lamb—it can be gamy. These braised lamb shanks, though were delicious: vermouth, lemon, parsley, garlic, tomatoes, and olives compliment the natural lamb-ie-ness. But it’s a shame not to roast a leg of lamb. The shanks were sold out!
Quick-thinking Tess bought a turkey and we had an “American” holiday meal with dressing and gravy and all.
Who doesn’t love (left-over) turkey sandwiches? Which we enjoyed heartily.
My brother, suddenly called and announced that he and his wife would be driving up from St. Louis. I took the day off on Thursday to spend time with them, and because my father can’t go out nor be left alone, I was glad to have the remainder of the lamb shanks in the freezer, though I was afraid there was not enough for five people. Voila! I boiled some gold potatoes, added some more wine and lemon, and removed the meat from the bones. Braised lamb stew!
It was plenty of food, and there was even some left over. J. invited S. for dinner after the walk. I could have roasted one of the legs, but there is so much to do at the new place: and so much junk to get rid of at the old, that cooking an elaborate meal was not to be. I’d come across a recipe for a stew with similar flavors with the addition of chickpeas. So back to the bottomless pot of lamb shanks! We stopped at Aladdin’s (I didn’t know that they have a hallal meat counter!) and bought a lamb steak. A little browning and a bit of additional seasoning, and the stew tasted as if it had cooked for hours and hours.

Braised Lamb Shanks
adapted from Molly Steven’s Recipes
serves 6 – 8 people

  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 ½ pounds each)
  • All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 yellow onions (about 1 pound total), chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • one 14 ½-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, squished and torn through your fingers
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup dry white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 large bay leaves
  • ½ cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives, such as Nyons or Moroccan
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Serve over mashed potatoes or polenta

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim the lamb shanks: If the shanks are covered in a tough parchment-like outer layer (called the fell), trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peeling back this layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t peel off any of the thin membrane—this holds the shank together and will melt down during braising.

Dredge the lamb shanks: Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. Dust each shank with the flour, lifting them out one by one and patting to remove any excess. Set them on a large plate or tray, without touching. Discard the remaining flour.

Brown the lamb shanks: Heat the oil in a large heavy-based braising pot (6- to 7- quart) over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the 2 flour-dredged shanks (you’re searing in two batches so as not to crowd the pot). Cook, turning the shanks with tongs, until they are gently browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the shanks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding.

The aromatics and braising liquid: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. If the bottom of the pot is at all blackened, wipe it out with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any tasty caramelized drippings. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly tender. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom of the pot that will contribute flavor to the liquid. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, zest the lemon: Use a micro-plane grater to remove the zest from half of 1 lemon. Be careful to remove only the outermost yellow zest; the white pith tastes bitter. Reserve the lemon. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaves.

The braise: Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables. The shanks should fit snugly in the pot if you arrange them “top-to-toe.” They can be stacked in two layers. Cover the pot with crunched parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the lamb and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the rim of the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2 ½ hours. Check the shanks every 35 to 45 minutes, turning them with tongs and moving those on top to the bottom and vice versa. If the liquid simmers too aggressively, lower the oven temperature by 10° to 15 °F. If the liquid reduces so it no longer covers the meat, add ½ cup water at a time. The shanks are done when the meat is fork tender.

Segmenting the lemon: While the shanks braise, use a thin-bladed knife (a boning knife works well) to carve the entire peel from the 2 lemons. First cut off the stem and blossom ends of each lemon so they are flat on the top and bottom. Stand a lemon up and carve off the peel and white pith beneath it with arcing slices to expose the fruit. Trim away any bits of pith or membrane that you’ve left behind, until you have a whole naked lemon. Work over a small bowl to collect the juices as you hold the lemon in one hand and cut out the individual segments, leaving as much of the membrane behind as you can. Drop the segments into the bowl, and pick out the seeds as you go. When you finish, you should be holding a random star-shaped membrane with very little fruit pulp attached. Give this a squeeze into the bowl and discard. Repeat with the second lemon.

To Serve: Transfer the shanks to a tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Use a wide spoon to skim as much surface fat from the cooking liquid as possible. Lamb shanks are very fatty! Tilt the pot to gather all the liquid on one side and skim until you are satisfied. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lemon segments, olives, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the shanks to the braising liquid to reheat for a minute or two. Serve with plenty of sauce spooned over each shank.

Note: Because this meal prepared for two meals for two, the remaining lamb shanks and sauce was refrigerated. Before freezing it, I removed even more of the solidified fat than was possible as described above. If at all possible, prepare this recipe a day ahead and simply crack and pick off the large amount of solidified fat.

6 thoughts on “Braised Lamb Shanks

  1. Happy New Year, Tess . . .

    I rather like lamb shanks (though over here they tend to be scrawny and overpriced these days – a few years ago they’d have been hard-pressed to give them away!).

    I was intrigued by the idea of what a Japanese take on lamb shanks might be – but there you go . . .

    Me, I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and cook them after the French manner, with soaked and drained cannellini beans, lots of fresh rosemary, onions, parsnips if in season, the sweetest carrots I can find, and just a hint of garlic (I’m rather losing my taste for garlic).

    Works just as well with a nice wild rabbit or two, er, too.

    • Happy New Year!
      Sorry to disappoint about the Japanese lamb shanks. Seems like they would be good with miso and maybe some ginger???
      I have to agree that lamb shanks are not cheap anymore: the leg of lamb was only $.50 per pound more than the shanks—but these were exceptionally meaty. They were from Australia—and now I’m wondering if the Middle Eastern shop gets their lamb locally.
      Ms. Shimbo has a lamb stew recipe in the book I am (mostly) using:
      with lamb shoulder.
      And she had a post on her blog, which doesn’t seem to be working right now (I wrote about it here, but didn’t write out the recipe):
      Ms. Shimbo and her sister did study French cooking as a young woman, and her recipe for braised veal tongue definitely shows that influence.

      • I must check that out, but talking of French cooking, I once saw Delia Smith, on TV, tossing together a perfectly standard recipe of lamb shanks and beans and announcing to the world at large that it was “my recipe”!

        Not bad for a dish that’s been in the French culinary canon for centuries, if not millennia!

        If you’ve managed to miss Dreadful Delia over in the US she’s widely regarded as having taught middle England to cook, but sticking religiously to someone else’s recipe isn’t cooking, it’s mimicry. You learn by stepping away from the books.

        Sure, you’ll make mistakes; if it works, you’ve got a new recipe (or a variant, at least), if it doesn’t, well. you’ll learn from the experience and move on, coming to appreciate the pleasure and spontaneity of cooking, which you won’t by following a book.

        That’s not to say I don’t like books – I do – I have several shelves of cookery books, spanning a century, which I’ll read for ideas, or just for the hell of it, but I’ll almost never make one of the recipes. I do like the older books, though, where the writers assume that if you’re reading it, you must have some skill, and so skip the minutiae. Elizabeth David was a bit like that, which was unusual for that time.

        But, hey, that’s just me . . .

        • I’ve heard of Delia Smith, and for all I know she is on U.S. TV—we don’t have a functional set anymore and don’t really miss it. When we travel, I used to enjoy the FoodNetwork, but it has degenerated into celebrity cooking. There is one program that is especially annoying: the woman (lots of cleavage, lots of drinks, tablescapes…) who shows people how to use packaged foods to make all sorts of “fancy” gour-met meals. And another who uses a pound of butter on everything. Oh, and the one who makes meals in 30 minutes and sells about a bazillion books and magazines on the topic.

          “The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes.” — Julia Child
          (except sometimes: No-Go Mabo Tofu ) oh well…
          My mother-in-law gave me several Elizabeth David books when I was first married. There were some memorable recipes in them; it was a time when exotic ingredients were nearly impossible to find here. I learned a lot from them because her recipes were more about guidelines.

          For this blog, at least at the beginning, the project I set for myself was to make each recipe as written at least once. It’s been a good experience: there were so many unfamiliar ingredients, and by following directions exactly (especially cooking vegetables) I learned some useful techniques that I’d have overlooked by assuming I already knew how to cook.

          Learning the basics is important if one hopes to move on to higher things. But I agree, stepping away from the tyranny of a recipe can be a freeing experience. Even creative.

          My favorite cookbooks are all readable: stories, history, insight into how food influences culture.

          • Oh, and the one who makes meals in 30 minutes and sells about a bazillion books and magazines on the topic.

            Yep, her show has made landfall here – just what we need!

            Getting into the books for Japanese anything is pretty vital – they’re intensely serious about technique, especially in cooking. Just be thankful you didn’t choose kyudo (Japanese archery) – it’s years before you’re even allowed to touch a bow . . .

  2. Pingback: Lamb Shanks, Japanese Style | Tess's Japanese Kitchen

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