Braised Lamb Shanks
You know those stupid questionnaires where famous/supposedly interesting people are asked a bunch of questions and one of them is always, without fail, What would your last meal be?
Though I hate the question (I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have much of an appetite), I often like the responses. Besides the witty people who answer, “really long,” I like how predictable they are. If, for example, the interviewee is Australian, they’re bound to want a big lamb roast followed by pavlova, a North Carolinian will most likely want barbecue, and an Israeli will include some sort of
tomato cucumber salad. Personally, thinking about my last meal turns my stomach off, twists it into a little ball and generally makes me act like the dog during a thunderstorm.
But if I absolutely had to choose, no getting out of it, and the choice was all mine, lamb shanks would be on the menu.
Now I know that my recent exploits may suggest the opposite, but I’m not a huge fan of zee lamb. Lamb to pet and make sweaters from, sure. But if I’m downwind when you’re grilling a lamb chop, you may catch a glimpse of my emphatic Do Not Want face. And trust me, it’s not pretty.
I do, however, love lamb cooked in a very certain way: slowly. I love slow-cooked lamb ragù, for example, but you already knew that. You can add Irish stews, hearty pot or shepherd pies, and my absolute favorite, braised lamb shanks.
The best I’ve ever had are the lamb shanks from my favorite restaurant in the world where they cook the meat for six hours in duck fat. I know this because I bought the cookbook for the sole purpose of recreating the dish at home, only to realize, upon turning to page 55, that it requires sous vide bags, a massive pot and about 24 hours supervision. As you can imagine, I have yet to tackle the beast.
I am lucky in that, on request, my dad will make pretty good lamb shanks (above), which, contrary to my aesthetic sensibilities, he insists on servings off the bone.
Unluckily, however, I am very rarely in my dad’s company. And so, as a lover of lamb shanks I have been reduced to making them for myself. I know what you’re thinking: Boo hoo! Poor baby! No one to coddle her with tender meat falling off the bone with a red wine and lamb jelly reduction! But in all seriousness, some things just taste better when other people make them for you. Like buttered toast or gin gimlets. Maybe in the case of slow-braised lamb shanks, it’s that by the time they’re ready I’ve had their smell stuck in my hair and on my hands for at least two days so I’m already kind of over whatever craving spurred me to make them in the first place. And so, long story short, I rarely – if ever – make lamb shanks at home.
The other day, though, my desire for their falling-off-the-bone deliciousness could not be satiated and I went out and bought me some lamb shanks at the farmers market and cooked them up in a classic – if a bit boring – red wine braise.
So how were they? After 3 plates of passatelli and about 7 glasses of wine I wasn’t the best judge of anything, but as leftovers the next day for dinner they were divine. The cooking liquid reduces to a delicious sauce that makes even the most ordinary mashed potatoes (as mine were) come alive. In fact, we had so many leftovers that Francesco has been happily eating them for lunch ever since and, though I’m still trying to get the last remnants of the smell out of my hair, he has already mentioned a bis.
Maybe next time he’ll make the shanks, so I can enjoy them in all their glory.
BRAISED LAMB SHANKS
This is the simplest version I can imagine. Use one lamb shank per person (you’ll probably have some leftovers) and plan on making them at least one day – and up to four – ahead. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, lentils, pure di patate, pumpkin mash, or similar, and lots of bread to mop up the sauce.
6 lamb shanks (on the bone)
flour for dredging
salt & pepper
1 carrot, chopped roughly
1 onion or 2 leeks, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 cups red wine
6 cups broth or water
2 bay leaves, 2 rosemary twigs, 2 thyme twigs
Put a little flour in a large bowl, sprinkle in some salt and pepper, and then dredge the lamb shanks to coat.
In a very large, wide-bottomed pot (that will be able to fit all the meat), heat some olive oil on high heat. Brown the dredged meat on all sides, about 20 minutes total. You may need to do this in batches if they don’t all fit. When meat is very well browned, remove and set aside.
Add to the pot the carrots and leeks; cook until softening, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, and stir to coat. Add the garlic and tomato; cook for another couple minutes until the tomato is soft.
Add the wine, stir, and reduce over the highest heat until mostly evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the meat back to the pot and add the broth. Try to fit the meat under the liquid as much as possible. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and simmer for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, until meat is very tender when poked with a knife.
Turn off heat and allow to cool. At this point you can cover it up and let it sit on the counter overnight.
When cooled, skim off the orange layer of fat on top and discard. Carefully remove the lamb shanks from the jelly and set aside. Pass whatever is in the pot through a fine sieve, making sure to really push everything through with the back of a spoon. Discard the solids.
Now you have your cooked lamb and your sauce. You can keep them separately or together in the fridge for a couple days or you can serve after heating them through in the oven at a low temperature for about 20 minutes.