Sunday, May 2, 2010

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks

  Since the weather has not gotten any better, I have decided to prepare some braised lamb shanks to warm up the soul a bit.  Deliciously comforting, lamb shanks make a great meal for a cold spring day especially served with some new potatoes and fresh spring vegetables.  A French restaurant I once worked at used to serve shanks just like these on a vanilla potato-leek compote that was strangely wonderful with the lamb.
  Braising is my favorite way to cook.  I love taking inexpensive cuts of meat and turning them into tender, flavorful meals.  The cultural significance of braising is very much rooted within the common-folk and peasant history.  These muscles are used for locomotion, versus steering, and tend to have more cartilage and connective tissues which keep the meat tender and succulent when it melts.  First searing in the flavor and moisture, then slowly breaking down the connective tissues with moist heat is the most common method used.  This combination of wet and dry cooking processes leads to a fully cooked muscle that falls apart, yet is full of moisture.  If one were to braise a very lean, fat-less tenderloin they would have a very disappointing and dry hunk of meat.  On that same note, if you served a chuck roast medium rare you would have a very sore jaw.  It is best to braise low and slow at a constant temperature of 325°F for approximately 5 hours, yet I find 3 hours at 400°F works for convenience.
  The shank is the fore-leg of an animal, usually bone-in containing several small muscles with tendon and ligament attachment.  Most butchers sell them 'cracked' or without the knee joint (usually ideal for serving on the bone). If it is going into a stew or another application I would leave this joint attached to yield more product and increase the flavor.
  Lamb has a unique flavor that is sometimes too gamey for some.  I find that a simple red wine braise is effective in softening these flavors while also enhancing the savory attributes and cutting the fattiness with the residual tannins.  Pinot Noir is a perfect wine to use as it is very delicate, yet full bodied.  A Petite Syrah or Shiraz is suitable as well.

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves Two

2 large lamb shanks
1 750 ml bottle of Pinot Noir, poured into plastic container
1 qt veal stock
1/4 cup vegetable oil (preferably rice bran)
1 large spanish onion chopped (halved, then quartered)
2 celery stalks chopped large
2 carrots chopped large
6 cloves garlic smashed once
6 small mushrooms halved (button, brown, porcini, morel, etc.)
2 bay leaves (1 if fresh)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and Black Pepper
1 Tbs butter

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Start a heavy pan on high heat with 1/4 cup vegetable oil.

Sear the shanks on high heat until brown on all sides.

Remove shanks from pan, carefully pour out oil and salt left in the pan.

Return pan and shanks to heat, slowly deglaze with red wine being careful not to ignite the pan.

Add all ingredients, except the butter, evenly distributed across pan.

Cover tightly with foil and place in oven.

Cook for 3 hours at 400°F, until fork-tender.*

Let shanks rest in braising liquid, covered, until manageable.  (This allows the meat to absorb moisture lost during heat induced contraction.)

Remove shanks from pan, strain liquid into saucepan and reduce to desired sauce consistency.  Add butter and stir to emulsify.

Serve with seasonal vegetables, baby potatoes, hearty greens, whatever comforts you.

*This recipe is based on simplicity and ease.  Based on your needs, you may wish to reduce oven temperatures and extend cooking times for better results. Remember to check liquid levels periodically as  they may drop unexpectedly; simply add more water and reseal. 


  1. Your description makes the room fill with the aroma of a wonderful meal. Thanks for bringing it to life. I'm looking forward to cooking it myself.

  2. John, your blog is pretty excellent. Keep up the good work :)

  3. Thank YOU Dad! This is the same recipe we did for your 50th, now you can enjoy it whenever.

  4. Thanks Michelle! Do we get to hang out with you this summer?

  5. John,
    You are an artist with food! I want to try this recipe for Grandma Carol! She will be so impressed!

  6. Thank you Brittnay! This is a great recipe for entertaining because once everything is in the pot, you're pretty much done! I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we do!