I have to confess that some years ago I cut down on my meat consumption, favoring fish and poultry. But some meat dishes I just cannot resist. One of them is Lamb Shanks.
Most stores don’t carry lamb shanks, so you may have to ask the butcher to order them for you. I discovered some frozen ones from New Zealand on sale last week for $2.99 a pound. Three lamb shanks together weighed more than four pounds. Once thawed, they looked like weapons, not dinner.
Unlike a leg of lamb, a lamb shank is tough. In case you were wondering, it’s the leg part below the knee. It’s the perfect piece of meat to bake in a covered casserole in the oven. Just add a lot of liquid, cover and cook for a few hours.
If you want to serve lamb shanks caveman-style, offer one per person on a large plate. Otherwise, cut off the cooked meat, trim away any fat and serve the lamb pieces in a bowl, with gravy on the side. Cutting the meat off the bones allows you to serve more people.
Traditional Lamb Shanks – serves 3-4
3 lamb shanks (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 black pepper
2 cups red wine
2 cups water + more if necessary
Trim and discard any excess fat from the lamb shanks. Begin heating the oil in a large cast-iron (if possible) casserole dish over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, brown the lamb shanks, cooking them for about 5 minutes and turning them at least once. Remove from the heat and transfer the lamb shanks to a plate.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Add the carrots, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to the casserole and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to brown. Turn off the heat. Return the lamb shanks to the casserole and add the red wine and water.
Cover the casserole with a lid or tight-fitting foil and bake for 2 hours. Check after 1 hour to make sure all the liquid hasn’t boiled away. Add 1 more cup water if there is less than 1 inch of liquid. At the end of 2 hours, remove the casserole from the oven and carefully turn over the lamb shanks. Add up to 1 more cup water if most of the liquid has boiled away and continue baking for another 30 minutes, or until the meat is very soft.
Remove from the oven and transfer the lamb shanks, carrots and onions to a large platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.
To make the gravy, remove as much fat as possible from the liquid left in the casserole. Either spoon it out or, if you have enough time, transfer the liquid to a container and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. The fat will rise to the top and begin to harden. Use a fork to lift out the hardened fat and discard it. Or if the fat hasn’t quite hardened, use a spoon.
If the lamb shanks have cooled off, add the defatted liquid to the casserole, return the lamb shanks and vegetables and reheat everything.
Serve 1 lamb shank per person, along with some carrots and onions. Or cut the meat off the shanks and serve it on a platter with the carrots and onions and a separate bowl of gravy. Mashed potatoes would make a good side dish.
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