The shank is the part of the leg between the knee and ankle. It is typically tough and stringy but can be slow cooked to yield a truly delicious dish. This week, I tackled a couple of lamb shanks for dinner one night and braised them in a rich mixture of vegetables, wine and tomato paste. I was truly happy with the results.
My first shank
I was working in an environmental lab in Nashville and a coworker asked me if I had ever eaten a lamb shank. I hadn’t and so we pre-ordered a couple of shanks for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant. I didn’t know at the time that shanks had to be cooked over a long time to make the meat tender. The dish was fabulous but I don’t normally see lamb shanks at the local grocery so I forgot about them.
Many years later, I noticed that a grocer in Paducah was carrying lamb and low and behold they had some shanks. I bought a couple and went home intending to prepare them in a Moroccan style dish. The first recipe I came across was more of a Mediterranean or southern Italian dish but it sounded too good to pass.
I always read a recipe before trying it. It only makes sense to make sure that you have all the ingredients and can follow the intent of the original cook or chef. Well, I missed something in this one. It had to do with the time needed to prepare the dish.
The original recipe called for almost 6 hours total to prepare. It only too about 3 ½ hours. As I had never cooked a shank before, I wasn’t aware that this was way too long. Whoever had prepared the entry for online publication made a mistake in the total time so dinner was ready a bit before I was ready to serve it. This isn’t the first mistake I’ve found in recipes and I’m sure it won’t be the last.
I will say that the flavor was a bit heavy in tomato. I didn’t prepare the gremolata that was suggested which may have enhanced the overall flavor of the dish. I served it with a wild rice blend but the overall Italian flavor could easily be paired with a pasta or polenta cakes.
Live, Laugh, Love and Eat well.
Braised Lamb Shanks
Courtesy of Anne Burrell
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice
- 3 celery ribs, cut into ½ inch dice
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 large Spanish onion or two small yellow onions, cut into 1-inch dice
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 4 Lamb shanks (about 1 ¼ LBS each, 1 shank per portion) – I used two larger shanks
- 1 – 12oz can of tomato paste ( I would reduce to about 8 to 10 oz)
- 2 cups hearty red wine
- 2 TBSP finely chopped rosemary leaves
- 10 to 12 thyme branches tied in a bundle (I used about 1 TBSP thyme leaves)
- 4 to 5 cups water
- 4 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 400F. Coat a large Dutch oven generously with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Season the shanks generously with salt and add them to the pan. Brown well on all sides. This is important and don’t rush it.
Puree the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in a food processor into a coarse paste. Remove and set aside.
Remove the shanks from the Dutch oven and place on a baking sheet. Discard the excess fat in the pan. Ass a little more oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the pureed vegetables. Season with salt, to taste. Sauté the veggies until they are very brown and aromatic being careful not to burn them. They should form a bit of a crust on the pan. Don’t rush this step either, as this is where you develop the flavor and color.
Add the tomato paste and brown for about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine, chopped rosemary and thyme bundle. Stir frequently and cook until the wine has reduced by about half.
Add the shanks back to the pot and pour in 4 to 5 cups of water. The shanks should be submerged, if not then add more water. Add the bay leaves to the pan, cover and put in the preheated oven.
Cooking time will be about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Check the shanks about every 45 minutes and remove the fat with a spoon. Turn the shanks after half the cooking time has elapsed. If the liquid has reduced too much add more water.
Remove the lid during the last 30 minutes of cooking time for maximum browning. When the shanks are done, the meat should be incredibly tender and flavorful. Serve with gremolata and polenta cakes.
- 1 orange, zested
- 1 lemon, zested
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 TBSP freshly grated horseradish
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and set aside until ready to use.