Basic Braised Lamb Shank or Leg of Lamb, with Greek Variation

Leg of Lamb (Shank) and Lamb Rack

Leg of Lamb (Shank) and Lamb Rack

By Cat, April 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

I love braising a lamb shank with herbs, lemon, garlic and other veggies until fall-apart tender. My first exposure to braised lamb shank was in one of Portland Oregon’s  Greek restaurants. It is easy to prepare, with minimum prep work, but it does take about 2 hours or so to braise, so it is not a ‘quick’ dinner. I especially like the Greek variation included here.

Shank vs Leg of Lamb

Lamb shanks are not the same as ‘leg of lamb,’ though they may be prepared similarly:

  • The shank is typically from the front leg and shoulder and contains the round leg bone; it is fairly tough and is best cooked by braising or cooking in liquid (1).  Shanks are an inexpensive cut of meat with wonderful flavor when braised, as in this recipe.
  • Leg of lamb is typically from the hind leg and includes the sirloin section with hip bone, and the shank portion with round bone, and is usually roasted (1).
  • The shank portion of the lamb leg, which is the leg of lamb with the sirloin half removed; it is usually roasted (1).
  • Lamb shoulder is a less expensive cut of lamb than the leg, but has good flavor especially when braised, and may be used instead of the leg in many recipes.

Basic Braised Lamb Shanks or Leg of Lamb

This is my own recipe, but I include suggestions from other sources (2,3,4), as well as from my dining with Greek friends. Recipes originally intended for leg of lamb can be adapted to using lamb shank, provided they are braised. However, the cooking time may be more for the shank, as leg of lamb is naturally more tender than the shank.

This recipe can be adapted to using a crock pot for the braising, but I highly recommend browning the shanks on top of the stove first.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
  • Unrefined sea salt & black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • chopped veggies of your choice (carrots, onion, garlic, celery, fennel, etc. as desired to flavor the cooking liquid and pan sauce
  • 3 ½ cups red or white wine
  • 4 cups chicken, beef stock, other bone broth, or veggie broth
  • herbs and/or spices as desired (Thyme, fennel, rosemary, tarragon and basil are good with lamb; also allspice, ground coriander, and cardamom)
  • Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • herbs, as desired
  • Unrefined sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper
  • Equipment
  • Dutch or French oven that can be used on top of stove and in oven (or cast iron skillet for stove top and casserole dish for oven)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Mesh strainer or sieve
  • bowl

Method to braise lamb shanks:

  1. Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 2750 F.
  2. Sear: In Dutch or French oven, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown lamb shanks well in batches, transferring to a plate as browned.
  3. Braising mixture: Add veggies to pan; sauté until beginning to caramelize. Add wine; simmer until liquid is reduced to about 3 cups, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add shanks to veggie/wine mixture.  Stir in broth and herbs [NOTE: some herbs should only be added for the last hour of cooking]. Bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes.
  5. Braise: Cover pot (or transfer to covered casserole). Cook in pre-heated oven, stirring & turning lamb shanks occasionally, 1.5 – 2 hours.
  6. Remove cover and simmer mixture 1 hour more, or until shanks are tender, stirring occasionally.
  7. Transfer shanks to a plate. Remove meat from the shank (it should be so tender it falls off). Keep warm, covered with foil.
  8. If sauce is desired: Strain braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding solids.  Stir in butter and desired herbs.  Boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly.  Strain sauce again through sieve into a serving bowl, and season with salt and pepper.

Variation: Greek-Style Braised Lamb Shanks

As above with the following recommendations (for 4 shanks):

  • Veggies: Onion, carrot, fennel and extra garlic;
  • Wine: A white wine such as Vermouth is best.
  • For herbs, use: 1 Tbsp crushed, dried oregano and 1 Tbsp crushed, dried mint, and 1 tsp green peppercorns, crushed.
  • Options:
  • Add freshly squeezed juice and zest of one lemon; or preserved lemon (lacto-fermented); this is the classic Greek option;
  • Add 1 – 2 cups chopped tomatoes, 1 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp ground cinnamon (or one 2-inch stick of cinnamon), 1 bay leaf and 2 tsp oregano. Reduce amount of stock by ½ cup. Red wine is best for this combo;
  • Add 3 anchovies or 1 Tbsp anchovy paste;
  • Add 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar;
  • Serve with cooked orzo (small Green pasta) or steamed rice

See also Epicurious (2), At the Greek Table (3), and Family Oven (4) for more versions using tomato, cinnamon and anchovy.

I like to accompany this version with a glass of Retsina, a Greek resin-wine, as the flavors are very compatible.

Testing

Testing 12/3/11: Braised 1 large shank, Greek-style, using 1/2 fennel bulb, chopped, 1/2 carrot, 1/2 onion, 4 garlic, 3/4 cup Vermouth, 1 cup chicken stock, several sprigs fresh oregano and mint, 1/2 tsp anchovy paste, and 1/4 preserved lemon; plus added 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar for last hr of cooking. Total time in oven was longer than recipe, total 4 hours. Result: Sauce was fabulous; the preserved Meyer lemon and balsamic vinegar are excellent additions. Meat was nicely tender and flavorful. This is a keeper

References:

  1. Lamb shank & Leg of Lamb cuts: mealsforyou.com/cgi-bin/customize?meatcutslamb.html
  2. Epicurious recipe: epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Greek-Style-Braised-Lamb-Shanks-107081
  3. At the Greek Table recipe: facebook.com/note.php?note_id=268178093609
  4. Family Oven recipe: familyoven.com/recipe/greek-style-braised-lamb-shanks/53977

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