Wine-Braised Lamb Shanks
Last week I made braised beef short ribs while I was visiting my daughter, and the satisfying warmth and goodness of that family meal was very pleasant indeed. This week I wanted to extend that feeling a bit by making another meal based on herb-infused slow-cooked meat for our wonderful neighbors Kit and Carrie. In the two-plus years we've lived next door to them, dining together every couple of weeks, either in the warm and beautiful timberpeg house they designed and built for themselves or at our table, has become a cherished rhythm in our lives. We're not family, of course, but the feeling of being safe at home with our loved ones is certainly in the air when we gather for these meals.
Braised lamb shanks is a simple, honest meal that makes high use of a marginal cut of meat, the most common vegetables, some hearty wine and a few aromatics from the fall herb garden. Making it spreads a warm fragrance throughout the house as it cooks, slowly, for several hours, and serving it to family or good friends just feels right. For Kit and Carrie the lamb was served with homemade egg noodles (to be the subject of a future post) and a simple salad of baby spinach, slow-roasted grape tomatoes, a few shavings of red onion and a crumbling of goat cheese, dressed with the spectacular Maine Maple Vinaigrette dressing that is a signature preparation in the dining room at Clay Hill Farm down the road.
Wine-Braised Lamb Shanks
3 medium lamb shanks, about 4 lb total, cut in half (see note below)
2 medium onions, rough chop
2 medium carrots, rough chop
3 celery stalks, rough chop
5 cloves garlic, peeled, rough chop
1 28-oz can tomatoes, with juice
1 leek, white part only, cut in half-moons
2 T fresh rosemary, minced
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds
3/4 oz porcini mushrooms
1 C hearty red wine
2 C low sodium lamb broth or other low-sodium meat broth
3 T butter
3 T flour
salt, hot sauce to taste
1 T flatleaf parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 350º.
Soak the porcini mushrooms minutes in hot water. Carefully lift the mushrooms out of the liquid with a slotted spoon, leaving any grit in the bowl. Set the mushrooms aside and strain the liquid, again leaving any grit in the bottom of the bowl. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Salt the shanks and brown them all over in a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pot over high heat, about 10 minutes. Remove shanks to a side plate. Sauté onions, carrots, celery and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 8 minutes. Raise heat and stir for a couple of minutes until the vegetables just start to brown at the edges. Return the shanks to the pot. Add the tomatoes, wine, broth, rosemary, thyme, fennel seeds, mushrooms, and mushroom soaking liquid, stir several times and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer. Make a roux from the butter and flour and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until the roux is a nice nut-brown. Scrape the roux into the pot, cover tightly and place in the oven. Braise about 3 to 3-1/2 hours, turning the shanks every hour, until the meat is falling from the bones. Return the pot to the stovetop and remove the shanks to a warm side plate. Remove fat that floats on the surface of the gravy and simmer it uncovered, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken slightly, while mashing the vegetables with a potato masher. Correct the seasoning. If serving immediately, place a bed of the sauce on a platter, then the shanks, and top with more sauce. Garnish with parsley.
This dish, like most stews and braised meats, is better if made a day ahead, refrigerated and then gently reheated for service.
I find a whole lamb shank to be too big for most diners, so I always have the butcher cut them in half when I buy them.