Slow cooked lamb shanks
About the ingredients
You really need Frenched lamb shanks for this recipe. You can try it with ordinary shanks but then you’ll have to put off you plans of being a supermodel for another year. Frenched lamb shanks are shanks that have been trimmed by the butcher to remove the excess fat and tendon. In up-market stores you may find fancy ones where the meat has been cut away from the bone at the bottom and pushed towards the top in the manner of a skirt tucked into the pantaloons for the purpose of riding a bicycle. You don’t need anything as poncy as that. After long slow cooking that presentation aspect will have disappeared. Your more down-to-earth butcher will have just chopped off the top and bottom – that’s where most of the rubbish is – with the belt saw and then maybe trimmed a little more with a knife. They will be fine for this recipe and they are currently (June 2008) selling from $2 to $3 each at the Vic Market. (As usual expect to pay about double that in a supermarket).
About the slow cooking
An electric slow cooker or crock pot is ideal for this recipe. (If you are new to using a slow cooker you might want to read The White Hat Guide to using a Crock Pot or Slow Cooker) Alternatively you can use a flat casserole dish in an oven on low heat. A heavy bottomed pan on the stove is possible if you are prepared to monitor it throughout the day (or night).
The ingredients below feed two. If you live alone, slow cooked meals reheat well – in fact they are often better after reheating. And if you live alone you may find the line “would you like to come in for some slow cooked lamb shanks?” works better than “would you like to come in for a nightcap?”
- 4 Frenched lamb shanks
- 1 large onion
- 6 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried one)
- 4 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 cups dry white wine
- freshly ground salt and pepper
If you are using a slow cooker, first use a pan on the stove. If you are using a casserole dish then that is all you need.
In the pan or casserole dish on the stove, heat a little oil. On medium heat, brown the shanks lightly turning to get some colour on each side – maybe 2 to 3 minutes total. Don’t worry if there is a bit of smoke rising from the pan unless the smoke alarm is nearby. Remove shanks and add chopped onion and garlic to soften, adding a little more oil if necessary. Add tomato paste and continue to stir and fry for about a minute. You are now ready to deglaze the pan. It is important to ascertain whether the wine is of a suitable quality for cooking so taste a little first. You cannot make a proper judgement on less than half a glass. Add the remaining half glass to the pan which should create a quantity of steam and enable you to scrape any crunchy bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the can of chopped tomatoes, the cinnamon stick broken in half (the perfectionists among you may wish to measure the cinnamon in order to find out where the exact half-way point is) and the cloves. If like me, you don’t mind coming across the surprise of the occasional clove in the finished dish they can go straight in. However for dinner party guests I am more likely to take a small peeled onion and stud it pin-cushion style with the cloves so that it can be removed at the end of the cooking. Season with plenty of freshly ground pepper, a little salt and possibly some sugar. (One thing that may need adjusting in subsequent cookings is the amount of salt and sugar added at the early stages. Tomato pastes vary in their bitterness and canned tomatoes vary in their sweetness. If the dish turns out too bitter the first time, add more sugar the next time round.)
If you are using a slow cooker, place the shanks in the bottom and cover with the other ingredients from the pan. If you are using the casserole dish in the oven, simply return the shanks. In either case I find the ideal situation is where the shanks are in one layer (otherwise you need too much liquid) and the sauce does not quite cover the shanks. Whether using a casserole dish or slow cooker form a cover with baking paper or aluminium foil that keeps the cooking steam close to the shanks. Cook slowly (slow cooker up to 8 hours; oven minimum of 3 hours at about 180 degrees) turning the shanks occasionally. Don’t worry if things have browned a bit on top (as distinct from shrivelled to charcoal). Turn it over and blend it in – that will add to the richness of the sauce. From time to time top up the liquid with a little white wine, having checked that it is still suitable for cooking. You can use stock such as thin chicken stock but there is no need to use rich stocks as the final sauce will be thick and rich enough without any assistance. The shanks are ready when the meat is easily separating from the bone.
Two shanks per person with the sauces from the pan (which should need no reduction or extra ingredients) should be enough for anyone except Pacific Island rugby players or 14 year old boys. There is no point combining them with subtle side servings. The big concentrated rich flavour of the shanks and the sauce will clobber them. For accompaniments you can try mashed spuds which will soak up the sauce. I particularly like a small pasta (like conchigloette or pignilina) – cook, drain then while hot mix in plenty of chopped parsley or similar greens and plenty of butter – there goes the good intentions of using low fat Frenched shanks. During the hours the shanks have been cooking you might notice that the display panel on your microwave has been scrolling messages such as “slow cooking is a passing fad” and “today’s food needs today’s technology”. To keep the microwave happy you might heat up some frozen beans or peas. Finally, for garnish you might try grating some lemon rind onto the shanks or some gremolata (finely chopped parsley, garlic & lemon rind). Use any garnish you like but it needs to be fresh, bright and strong to contrast with the richness of the shanks.
Like all recipes, try your own variants until you make it our own, Particularly in winter, lamb shanks are a great and cheap comfort food. And if your new-found companion doesn't want to come inside for supper, they don't know what they're missing out on.
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- The White Hat Guide to Lamb & Goat
- The White Hat Guide to Butchers in Melbourne