Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce, served with a fresh gremolata.
It’s no secret that I love slow-cooking. With two young children to entertain, I find it easiest to do the sort of cooking that requires a leave-it-and-forget-it approach. But I hardly need the children as an excuse; if I happen to be working from home, I find it easiest to organise my day by preparing dinner during my lunch break, and having something simmering away in the oven for a few hours requires little attention on my part.
Lamb shanks are a rare find in Zurich as it is not a cut of meat which the Swiss cook with traditionally, so I was delighted to discover that my favourite butcher at the weekly farmers’ markets usually always has them behind the counter.
As I have mentioned before, cooking with meat on the bone lends so much more flavour to a dish as it helps to add more savouriness and body to the sauce. What’s lovely about lamb shanks is that they are a relatively cheap cut of meat (although they are becoming more expensive due to their popularity), yet they look so elegant when served.
But as the lamb shanks sold here tend to be too large for a single serving, I often end up portioning the meat, which is a super-easy task given that the tender meat will simply fall off the bone and pull apart after 2-3 hours of braising.
The first time I made this dish, loosely following 3 different recipes for what was essentially a stew, I noticed how the flavour and texture of the lamb shank reminded me of osso bucco. And it’s not surprising since osso bucco is simply a cross-section of a veal shank, so the same part of the animal as a lamb shank.
If you were to cook osso bucco the traditional way, most Italian recipes call for white wine in the sauce, and that is indeed how I make my osso bucco (I follow a wonderful recipe from Sophie Conran’s Soups and Stews). But I find lamb to be a stronger-flavoured meat than veal, and which needs something like a gutsy red wine to give the dish more depth.
As my French husband loves his wine, our cellar is constantly stocked with cases of Côte du Rhone red wine which serves as his “table wine”, i.e. fairly cheap wine (about $6 a bottle) which he likes to drink with his dinner each evening. So if I ever have to cook with red wine, I simply reach for his table wine – if it’s good enough for drinking, it’s good enough for cooking! You should never use in cooking the cheapest wine you can find, unless it also happens to be something you are happy to drink; a bad wine is likely to lend some bitter notes to the dish. On the other hand, there’s certainly no need to use a very expensive wine either … I won’t tell you about the time we ran out of my husband’s table wine and I randomly selected a 2010 Bordeaux!
But as I had osso bucco on my mind, I pondered over the idea of serving my braised lamb shanks with a gremolata and it worked just beautifully. A gremolata is simply finely chopped parsley with garlic and lemon zest; these flavours give a freshness to the dish and pair really well with the lamb.
Braised lamb shanks are typically served with mashed potatoes or even soft polenta, but I love to use risoni pasta (also called orzo). This small pasta is shaped just like rice and, when mixed with the sauce, creates a wonderfully thick and comforting dish. The children love this pasta too, not least because it is so easy for them to eat.
Speaking of the children, they love this dish served with the meat already shredded and mixed through the sauce with the risoni pasta; it essentially becomes a ragu with pasta. However you serve it, it’s bound to be a family favourite!
Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with Red Wine Sauce
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 3 hours
- Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: Serves 4-6
For the Braised Lamb Shanks
- 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 lamb shanks, about 2 kg or 4 lb
- 1 large brown onion
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 large carrot
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup (250 ml) red wine (please see Notes below)
- 3 x 400g (14 oz) tinned diced tomatoes
- 2 cups (500 ml) chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 large orange peel
- sea salt & freshly cracked pepper
For the Gremolata
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- zest of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Heat the oil in a large oven-proof pot which will fit all of the ingredients comfortably.
- Sear the lamb shanks in batches until they are golden brown on all sides.
- While you are searing the lamb shanks, place the onion, celery and garlic into a food processor until finely chopped.
- Remove the lamb shanks to a plate.
- Turn down the heat. If the pan is really hot, remove it from the stove and let it cool a little.
- Add the onion mixture and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables have softenend.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the red wine and let the mixture bubble away for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to cook off.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, stock, sugar, bay leaves, and orange peel.
- Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer gently for a few minutes.
- Return the lamb shanks to the pan, together with any meat juices on the plate. Make sure the shanks are well-submerged in the sauce.
- Place the lid on the pan, and place the pan into the oven for 2 hours to braise. Check the pan every 30 minutes or so to give it a stir.
- After 2 hours, place the pan back on the stove on low heat. Remove the lid.
- Skim off and discard as much fat as you can from the sauce. At this stage, the sauce should look quite thin. Let everything simmer gently, without the lid, for about an hour, or until the sauce has thickened nicely and the meat is very tender. Stir the sauce occasionally to make sure that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Taste the sauce for seasoning, and add salt and pepper. If it tastes too tart or sour, you might need more sugar.
- Make the gremolata by mixing together the parsley, garlic and lemon zest.
- Serve the lamb shanks with risoni pasta, mashed potatoes, or polenta. Sprinkle generously with gremolata just before serving.
- If you plan to serve this dish with pasta (whether risoni pasta or another type of pasta), I would recommend warming the pasta through the sauce first. To do so, simply remove a few ladelfuls of sauce (or enough to serve with the pasta) into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the cooked and drained pasta, and stir everything together over high heat until the pasta is flavoured with the sauce. Alternatively, you can serve the pasta separately at the table, but this should be done as soon as the pasta is cooked and drained.
- There are several ways to serve this dish. If the lamb shanks are quite small, I would serve one lamb shank per person. Alternatively, you could pull the meat from the bones, and either serve the meat in large chunks or roughly shredded and mixed through the sauce. The latter is a good option for leftovers.
- I use Côte du Rhone red wine in my cooking (it’s the red wine which my French husband drinks on a daily basis), but any full-bodied red wine should work in this dish. Whilst you don’t need to use an expensive red wine when cooking, you should always use a wine which you would enjoy drinking – don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink!
- Serving Size: 6
- Calories: 532
- Sugar: 13g
- Sodium: 665.3mg
- Fat: 17.7g
- Carbohydrates: 23.2g
- Fiber: 4.7g
- Protein: 67.7g
- Cholesterol: 199.4mg
Share your photos!
If you have used this recipe, I would love to hear how it turned out! Please leave a comment below and share your photos by tagging @eatlittlebird on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and using #eatlittlebird