Slow-cooked Braised Lamb Shanks, flavored with generous amounts of onions, shallots, garlic and rosemary—a seriously satisfying main course. Recipe below.
I remember the first time I ordered lamb shank in a restaurant. It came out looking like a giant Flintstones club on the plate, impressively [frighteningly?] large and unmistakably honest about its animal origins. I was immediately hooked.
Seafood has in the past given me pause by looking too much like the original creature—I used to be troubled by my dinner staring back at me, for instance. Now, though, I think that if you’re going to eat animal flesh—and I am—you need to respect the animal and own up to what you’re doing. With its protruding shank bone and knobby joint, lamb shank leaves no doubt.
This same honest quality also appeals to my love of all things rustic in the kitchen. Lamb shanks are not polite, dainty food to be eaten with pinkies extended. This is serious knife-and-fork fare that will leave you wondering just how big an etiquette faux pas it would be if you picked up the bone with your hands at the end of the meal to gnaw on the last little bits.
Lamb shank—or foreshank, as it is sometimes called—comes from the shoulder and front leg. This is the leanest cut of lamb, full of hardworking muscle. So it needs long, slow cooking with moist heat to break down connective tissue and tenderize it. In other words, it’s perfect for braising. Lamb plays notoriously well with garlic and rosemary. Both are plentiful in this recipe, as are onions and shallots. In the long cooking process, their big flavors all mellow and blend, creating a complex, deep-flavored sauce to spoon over the Potato Root Vegetable Mash-up served on the side. Lemon juice and zest brighten the sauce, cutting its richness.
Braised Lamb Shanks
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves 2 [may be doubled—see Kitchen Notes]
5 cups thickly sliced yellow onions [about 4 medium]
4 shallots, thickly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut on the diagonal into thick slices
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 generous tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary [or 2 teaspoons dried]
2 lamb shanks, about 3/4 to 1 pound each
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
zest and juice of 1 lemon [see Kitchen Notes]
2 bay leaves
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat a dutch oven large enough to accommodate lamb shanks over a medium-low flame. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, onions, shallots and carrots. Sauté vegetable mixture until onions and shallots are very tender and starting to caramelize, stirring frequently to avoid burning, 20 minutes or more. If onions start to brown too quickly, reduce heat.
Meanwhile, pat shanks dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour. Heat a large skillet over a high flame. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown shanks thoroughly on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. If cooking more than 2 shanks, brown them in batches, adding more oil, if needed. Transfer browned shanks to a plate and add wine to the skillet. Cook until just heated through, scraping up browned bits in the bottom of the pan.
Add rosemary and garlic to the dutch oven with the onion/shallot mixture and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add chicken broth, lemon zest and juice and bay leaves. Add the red wine from the skillet and stir to combine. Arrange lamb shanks on top of the onion/shallot mixture; the liquid in the dutch oven should come about halfway up the sides of the shanks. If not, add a little water.
Cover with lid and place in oven. Braise shanks for about 2-1/2 hours or more, until meat is very tender. Turn the shanks once or twice during the braising, adding a little water to the dutch oven if the liquid is evaporating too much.
Transfer shanks to platter and tent with foil to keep warm. If the liquids in the dutch oven seem watery, bring to a boil over a medium-high flame to reduce—honestly, I didn’t need this step.
Plate shanks with Potato Root Vegetable Mash-up on the side. Spoon onion/shallot sauce over Mash-up and serve.
Doubling the recipe. A number of lamb shank recipes call for making as many as six at once. I don’t even want to think what size of dutch oven you’d need to accommodate them all. But our beautiful, blue, oval Staub La Cocotte would handle four nicely. And if Archimedes was right, I don’t think you’ll need additional liquid for making four at once—the only thing you’ll need to double in the recipe is the number of lamb shanks.
Brightening things up with lemon. Lamb is a fairly rich-tasting meat, even this lean section. The lemon adds needed acidity to balance the richness. You can also substitute a generous tablespoon of tomato paste for the lemon. In this small amount, it will add some brightness without being obviously tomatoey.
And finally, yes, we love lamb. You’ve probably noticed that lamb is fairly well represented at Blue Kitchen. Partly it’s because it’s just so darned delicious. And partly, it’s because we’ve lucked out and discovered a wonderful local source for humanely raised lamb—Mint Creek Farm in downstate Illinois,where their lamb is 100% grass-fed.