Most people have never eaten, or even considered eating, lamb shanks. Let me rephrase: Most AMERICANS have never considered it. Because, certainly, they’re common enough in the rest of the world – particularly the Mediterranean and Middle East. For some reason, though, lamb has an odd reputation in America and most Americans seem afraid of going anywhere near it.
My grandmother immigrated from Scotland, land of sheep, so my mother grew up eating plenty of lamb. And, therefore, I did too. But I’d never made shanks until about 10 years ago when my mother found this recipe and started making it. And I was instantly in love.
I love a good roasted leg of lamb as well as the next (non-American) person. But these shanks are now my favorite form of lamb. They are so tender – just falling off the bone, melting in your mouth, tender – and full of exquisite flavor. Probably because they’re so common in the middle east, this recipe has tons of spices.
Don’t be scared! It looks like a lot of flavor, but I promise you it’s PERFECT.
The thing with shanks is that they have to cook for a really long time to make them tender. There’s a pretty strong facia (or whatever) covering all the meat that needs to be cooked slowly to tenderize them. This is not a meal you can whip up in half an hour. So, this is a meal for a day off or a weekend. Or if, like me, you do your work at home it can be an any-day-of-the-week meal! But it’s especially good on cold, rainy, or blustery days. The perfect warm-your-bones sort of meal!
These are the shanks. You can see what I mean about that layer of facia, or whatever, covering the meat. It’s really strong and tough, and you’ll have a hard time even getting a knife through it when it’s raw.
Get four of them, and stick them with a bit of olive oil in a large pan with a lid, and sear them on all sides until browned (about 5 minutes).
Then take them out and put them on a plate.
And pour off everything that’s in the pan! Everything! It’s all basically fat that you want to get rid of.
Now stick them back in the pan, along with about a cup of water, put the lid on and cook on medium for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, they’ll look like this. See how that fibrous membrane has pulled back now, exposing the meat? It’s on its way!
Remove the shanks onto the plate again, and you’ll see the juices and fat left in the pan.
Pour this into a glass measuring cup or other heat-safe vessel of some sort, and then stick it in the freezer. You’ll come back to it later.
Now, pour a tiny bit of olive oil into the pan that you just scraped out, heat it up, and then put in some sliced onions and minced garlic. Cook it until the onions are limp and translucent.
And then shake in all the spices!
Stir it around to evenly coat the onions.
And then pour in some white wine.
This is when you take out the measuring cup you stuck in the freezer earlier. The fat should have started to solidify on the top, or at least separated enough that you can more easily scoop it off.
I don’t have a picture of this step, sorry, but it’s VERY IMPORTANT TO DO IT!!! Lamb fat isn’t like beef or pork fat. It’s really icky. And is one of the most indigestible fats around. You really want to skim off as much as you can.
You need about a cup of the juices from earlier. If you don’t have enough, or if it was just too fatty to bother with, you can just use chicken broth instead.
Now you plop in a generous Tablespoon of tomato paste. (If you used a can and have the rest of it left over, just freeze it for the future.)
Stir it all together.
Bring it back to a boil, then put the shanks in and turn the heat down to low.
Cover and let it cook for at least 2 1/2 hours, though you can let it simmer all day, really. I like to start it at noon when I have a little extra time, and then just forget about it all afternoon. Really, the longer and slower it cooks the better it is!
About an hour before you want to eat, start dicing up some carrots. Add them in to the pot and let it cook.
When you’re ready, it looks like this!
Stir in some lemon juice and more mint and serve it up!
Oh, yum…..See how that meat is just waiting to fall apart? It’s perfect.
This recipe seems fussy – and I guess it kind of is – but I promise you it’s worth it! We like it with mashed potatoes – the gravy and carrots poured on top. You can also do rice or orzo if you prefer, though!
- 4 lamb shanks
- 1 cup water
- 2 onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp mint
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp pepper
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- dash of allspice
- dash of cinnamon
- 2 cups chicken or lamb stock, or water
- 1 cup dry white wine
- heaping Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups diced carrots
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 Tbsp mint
- Trim off any excess fat from the shanks.
- Heat a little olive oil in a large covered pan, and sear the lamb shanks until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the shanks to a plate, and pour off everything in the pan.
- Return the shanks to the pan along with a cup of water, put the lid on, and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
- Remove the shanks to a plate again, and pour the juices and fat into a heat-safe vessel (like a glass measuring cup.) Put the juices in the freezer to let the fat set up.
- In the pan, heat a little olive oil and add in the sliced onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are limp and translucent.
- Add in the spices and stir to evenly coat the onions.
- Pour in the wine and 1 cup chicken broth.
- Take the cup with the lamb juices out of the freezer, and skim off as much of the fat as you can. There should be about a cup of juice, but if not make up the rest with more chicken broth. (Alternately, you can skip the lamb juices altogether and just use all chicken broth. I just like keeping the lamb flavor.)
- Stir in the tomato paste and bring everything to a boil
- Place the lamb shanks back in the pan, cover with the lid, and turn the heat down to low.
- Continue to cook over low heat for at least 2.5 hours, but you can let it go all day if you want to.
- An hour before you want to eat, start chopping up the carrots and add them into the pan.
- Stir in the lemon juice and some extra mint before serving.
- Serve along with mashed potatoes, rice, or orzo.