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.