In the cold Ohio winter months, when the sky is gray, the trees are bare, and the ground is white with snow, there are not many foods more comforting to me, than a fall-apart-tender meal of saucy braised meat and some creamy starchy vegetable to sit it upon. It could be beef pot roast, pork shoulder, beef short ribs, chicken cacciatore, or this lovely recipe for Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks cooked with aromatic vegetables and herbs. What happens under the braising blanket of wine, stock, and vegetables is nothing short of magical. A seriously tough cut of meat (typically one that comes from a part of the animal that is used a lot – like the muscle in the leg, in this case) begins to submit to its cozy surroundings and turns into the most tender, moist, and flavorful meal you could ask for.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 8-10 lamb shanks
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large Spanish onions or 4-5 smaller yellow onions, chopped
- 6 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 celery ribs, roughly chopped
- 10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 12 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 750 ml bottle dry red wine
- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- ½" x 2" strip of lemon peel
- 6-8 cups chicken broth
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Season the shanks generously with salt and pepper. Set a large Dutch oven over moderately high heat and drizzle generously with olive oil. Add the lamb to the pan (3-4 shanks at a time so the pan isn't overcrowded) and brown well on all sides. Do not rush this step. Flavor is maximized from this browning process. Set the shanks aside on a sheet pan as you finish browning each batch.
- Discard the excess fat from the pan. Add a little more oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté the vegetables until they are softened and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Again, take your time to get some color on the vegetables for added flavor.
- Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Stir in the wine.
- Tie the rosemary and thyme sprigs into a bundle with butcher's twine and add to the Dutch oven, along with the bay leaves and lemon peel.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and cook until the wine has reduced by about half.
- Add the shanks back to the pot (if all the shanks will not fit into the pot with room to spare, use two pots-dividing the liquid, aromatics, herbs, etc. evenly between the pots). Pour in enough chicken broth to almost cover the meat.
- Bring the liquid back to a simmer. Cover the pot with a piece of parchment paper followed by the lid.
- Place in the oven and cook for 2½ - 3 hours, stirring and readjusting the shanks halfway through the cooking time. The meat should be very tender and nearly falling off the bone at the end of 2½ to 3 hours. If two pots have been used to accommodate the quantity of shanks, and both pots do not fit in your oven, one pot may be left on the stovetop, covered with the lid, kept at a simmer, and cooking for nearly the same time as the meat in the oven.
- When the meat is very tender, remove the rosemary/thyme bundle, bay leaves, and the lemon peel from the dish. The dish can be served exactly as is, chunky and rustic, or, if you prefer, the vegetables and the sauce can be pureed in a blender or with an immersion blender (after removing the meat, of course) to create a thick, enriched sauce.
- Making this dish in advance and refrigerating it overnight enables the flavors to marry beautifully, as well as giving you the opportunity to remove the fat that has risen to the top and solidified. Simply remove it and discard before reheating.
These lamb shanks came from a local farmer friend who raises sheep, pigs, and chickens, all of which we’ve been lucky enough to try in one form or another. The family farm, Yellow House Cheese, sells its products (including scrumptious handmade, small batch artisan sheep’s milk cheese) at local farmer’s markets, several upscale Cleveland area restaurants, grocery stores, and straight from the farm to folks like us who appreciate the dedication it takes to carefully, naturally, and lovingly raise a herd of animals.
Visiting the Yellow House Farm in December to pick up some Christmas gifts for the in-laws brought back fond memories of my own childhood farm escapades with the sheep on our farm. I just love this picture of little me (would you believe me if I told you everyone called me Muffy as a kid?) holding one of our bottle fed lambs.
I learned quickly about the circle of life, though. I would fall hard for these soft creatures, especially the ones we had to bottle feed because their mother’s couldn’t produce enough milk for all the babies they would have. We would fill old green glass 7-Up bottles with lamb milk replacement formula, attach a nipple, and feed the lambs, who were kept in a separate stall with a heat lamp to keep them warm in the winter, several times a day. But on a working farm, the animals were raised for a purpose. A tough lesson to learn for a soft hearted little girl. But I digress.
This recipes serves a lot, and you could certainly cut it in half to serve, say, 4, but for the effort and time involved, it makes sense to make a large batch. Don’t let the cooking time scare you. Most of the work is done in the pan with the lid on – while you sip on a glass of red wine admiring your newly painted nails, or (truth be told) throw another load of laundry into the dryer. Let’s be real, right? My laundry is never, ever, ever done.
I hope this dish will grace your dining table this winter. It will warm your kitchen and your belly.
What are your favorite winter time dishes that warm your soul? Won’t you share in the comments below?
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. Thank you!