Springtime is here and a Sunday dinner of slow braised lamb shanks seems right for the season. I like braising meat on the bone. It’s a little time consuming, but not too much so. Much of the cooking time is unattended in the oven. Get everything going; sit down, put on a good movie and soon dinner is ready.
Braising is a great technique for turning tougher, more affordable cuts of meat into richly flavored, fork tender dishes. Follow the four basic steps of the technique – brown the protein, sauté aromatic vegetables, deglaze using the braising liquid, a long, slow cooking time – and a successful braise can be prepared using basic ingredients on hand.
When braised dishes come to mind, I think of bone-in cuts of beef, lamb or pork that benefit from this slow, moist cooking method that breaks down connective tissue. Classic braises include Osso Buco (veal shanks), beef short ribs, oxtails, and pork shinbones and lamb shanks.
Vegetables to can also be braised though the intent is primarily to infuse flavor rather than cook until overly tender. Fennel, Belgian endive and artichokes can be braised with great results. Artichokes braised in tomato sauce are served here alongside lamb shanks.
The lamb shanks are braised in wine and chicken broth flavored with a mirepoix (diced and sautéed carrots, celery and onion), tomato paste and lemon. Preserved lemon is ideal, but fresh lemon can be used.
In the last thirty minutes of cooking, coarsely chopped green olives are added and a teaspoon or two of fish sauce (thanks Kenji for this tip!). The resulting sauce is rich, unctuous and complex.
The lamb shanks are served on a bed of cannellini beans made with canned beans – an excellent product that are simply prepared by simmering in chicken broth. Alongside, or served to start, is the aforementioned tomato braised artichoke.
This recipe serves two, but can be easily scaled up. For a smaller dinner party, braised lamb shanks are a great springtime alternative to roasting a much larger leg of lamb. The shanks pair well with lighter red or in this case a deeply colored, California Rose.
Le printemps arrive!
For the lamb shanks
- 2 lamb shanks
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons everyday extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of dry white wine
- 1 cup of packaged chicken broth. Unsalted broth is starting to show up on the shelves of some markets. Chose the unsalted broth if available or a low-sodium broth.
- 1 six ounce can of tomato paste
- 1/2 lemon for juice
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 3/4 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
For the cannellini beans
- 1 can (15.5 ounces) cooked cannellini beans
- 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
For the lamb shanks
- Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
- Place a large (6 quart) cast iron pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter and when the pan comes to temperature add the lamb shanks rotating so that all sides are browned. About 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the pot and set aside.
- To the same pot, add the onions, carrots, celery and if needed more olive oil. Sautee the mirepoix until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 2 additional minutes.
- Add wine and chicken broth to deglaze the pot. Stir with a wooden spoon scraping the bottom of the pot to dislodge any brown bits. Add tomato paste stirring to combine. Add the juice of 1/2 lemon placing the squeezed lemon half in the pot. Add rosemary and bay leaf.
- Season lightly with salt and pepper. The seasons can be adjusted at the end of the cooking process.
- Return lamb shanks to the pot. The braising liquid should come midway up the shanks. Do not cover with liquid as this will boil the shanks rather than braise in a moist environment.
- Turn up the heat and bring braising liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover.
- Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees
- Place the pot with the shanks in the over and cook for 2 hours checking every 30 minutes and adding additional liquid (water or broth) if needed.
- In the last 30 minutes of cooking add olives and fish sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- Check for doneness with the tip of a knife. The lamb should be tender and pulling off the bone. Serve over cannellini beans with a generous about of the braising liquid spooned over the shank.
For the cannellini beans
- Start the beans 30 minutes before the lamb shanks are done.
- Drain and rinse cannellini beans in cold water.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, add chicken broth and beans. If needed add water to cover the beans.
- Add garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and salt, pepper to taste
- Bring to a boil and then lower to heat to simmer. Hold until needed to plate the lamb shanks.