Hello, spooners!! Wow, I posted nothing in October. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t cooking! The most noteworthy dish that I prepared last month was braised lamb shanks. Yum.
I am now a full-on omnivore, red meat included. But I don’t particularly like beef. It’s okay. To me, it has a heavy mouth feel and not a very interesting flavor. But lamb — I love lamb. It tastes rich and succulent and has a certain je ne sais quoi that beef just doesn’t have.
My mother never, ever prepared lamb when I was growing up. I have no memory from my first 30 years of life of eating lamb, nor of ever wanting to eat lamb. Perhaps it was too (relatively) exotic? Or not widely available in the Great Plains, a.k.a., beef country? Or a bit too pricey? Likely, all three of these reasons explain my inexperience with lamb.
I first tried lamb on my 31st birthday, when, shortly after my decision to reintroduce red meat to my diet, hubby took me to LB Steak on Santana Row. I was not interested in any of the cuts of beef. Rather, I quickly narrowed my choices to the pork chop and the braised lamb shank. Hubby told me, “lamb may be too strong a taste for you — you might not like it.” Not interested in ordering a $35 dish that I might not like, I ordered the pork chop. “I’m sorry, miss, we just ran out of pork chops.” I took this as a divine sign to order the lamb.
And I was sooo glad that I did. The red-purple meat was falling off the bone, moist, rich and sooo delicious. (Bonus: I shredded the leftover meat to make lamb-potato hash the next day for breakfast.)
The wonderful thing about lamb shanks is that a successful preparation is truly a triumph over sinew, tendons and hard-working leg muscles, which are tougher than meat that comes from the animal’s torso muscles. A shank — the shin of the animal — is the lower leg, or knee-to-ankle portion, of the animal. It is an inexpensive cut of lamb, certainly much cheaper than lamb chops or leg roast.
Raw lamb shanks look like this:
Lamb shanks need to be cooked low and slow to reach their full potential. The slow cooking allows the meat to soften and pull away from the bone while the connective tissues melt and coat the strands of meat. The results are delicious. As my friend Scott said, “this tastes like a $50 meal!” Awesome, I’ve got LB Steak beat!
You must try this recipe! Serve it with mashed potatoes to soak up the juices, and pair it with a red wine such as Zinfandel.
braised lamb shanks
[adapted from T. Susan Chang's recipe posted on npr.org on 2/16/10]
4 lamb shanks, about 1 lb each
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 white turnips, peeled and chopped (optional, I added them because I had them on hand)
1 head of garlic, cut in half cross-wise
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 jar of home-packed crushed heirloom tomatoes (or simply use a can of crushed tomatoes from the store)
2 cups (1 pint) chicken stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup white wine
pinch black peppercorns
pinch red chile flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
zest from 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Trim any excess fat from the shanks. Season them liberally with salt and pepper, the day before if possible. Cover the shanks with plastic wrap and store in the fridge over night.
Put the flour on a plate and press the shanks into it so that they are lightly coated with flour. Into a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, pour enough olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. Add the shanks and brown them well on all sides. This will take 12 minutes or so.
When the shanks are browned, remove them from the pan and set aside.
Remove most of the fat and add the onions, carrots, turnips, garlic, chile pepper flakes, peppercorns, rosemary and bay leaves to the roasting pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring now and then, until the vegetables soften. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste.
Turn up the heat to reduce the wine and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has reduced by half, put the shanks back in the pan and pour in the chicken broth. The liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the shanks, so pour in more broth or water, if necessary.
Bring the liquid to a boil. (This is where it’s super helpful to have bridged burners or a gas stove.) Immediately turn off the heat, cover and cook (braise) the shanks for 2.5 to 3 hours in a 325-degree oven. Remove the cover for the last 20 minutes of cooking to brown the meat a little. The lamb should be meltingly tender and falling off the bones.
To make the gremolata, simply mix together the parsley, lemon zest and minced garlic in a small bowl.
Plate the lamb shanks: Put a mound of mashed potatoes in the center of the plate. Put one lamb shank on the plate and spoon some veggies and the cooking liquid over the lamb and potatoes. Sprinkle the lamb with the gremolata and serve.