Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans & Lemon Gremolata

Leg of Lamb (Shank) and Lamb Rack

Leg of Lamb (Shank) and Lamb Rack

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

See also: 1. Lamb Recipes Menu; 2. Basic Braised Lamb Shank or Leg of Lamb

This is a wonderful recipe; although it seems complex, it is fairly simple but takes a bit of time. Don’t be tempted to cut corners by combining separate components. Each of the parts (meat, beans, gremolata and sauce) is a star in its own right; they should not be combined except when appropriate, as in the recipe.

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.

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans

White Beans

White Beans

(Photo, left, of white beans, from Wikimedia Commons)

This recipe is similar to Cassoulet (French Bean Casserole with Duck and Lamb), but while Cassoulet is from the Provence (Mediterranean) region, Braised Lamb Shank and Beans is from the the Pyrenees, the mountainous region dividing France and Spain.  This version is adapted from Epicurious (from Gourmet magazine, March 1996 (1)).  But instead of using canned beans, stock and tomato paste, I make my own (see links in the recipe below).

Start the beans to soak the day before you plan to serve the dish.  Or you could use 2 cans of beans, and stir them into the cooked veggies, but soaking dried beans in acid-water (whey or lemon juice) makes them easier to digest and improves their flavor, and also allows them to cook more quickly.

If you like these beans, next time make up a large batch and freeze or can the extra for future use. If canning, using a pressure canner, and refer to ‘Low Acid’ canning instructions in the Montana State Extension Service handbook on canning, for more.

You can skip the lemon juice when cooking the beans, but don’t skip the gremolata.  It adds wonderful flavor. Also, don’t skip straining and reducing the juices from braising the lamb, for a sauce.  It blends the lamb and bean flavors marvelously.

For this recipe, purchase front leg shanks, about 1 pound each, one for each serving.  You could use leg shanks, but the cooking time would be less, and they are much more expensive than regular shanks.  Some recipes call for bacon, but I think it detracts from the lamb flavor, and prefer to use olive oil/butter mixture.

A Dutch or French oven can be used both on top of the stove and the oven.  If you don’t have such, then use a cast iron frying pan for the top-of-stove work; then after browning the shank place it in an oven-proof casserole.  Saute veggies in the fry pan, adding wine and later the broth, all on top of the stove, then pour over the shank in the casserole, to finish cooking in the oven.

The original recipe cooks the shanks in a 3250 F oven for a shorter cooking time (2.5 hours total), but I think it becomes more flavorful, and the lamb more moist, if cook in 2750 F oven for a longer period of time (3 – 3.5 hours), about the same as for the beans so that they are done at the same time.

This recipe serves 4. I’m just a single person, so I usually do a half recipe.

NOTE: If beans are soaked longer than overnight, they will cook in an hour or less. Best to start the lamb before the beans in this case.

Leftovers idea:  I had beans left over after the lamb shank was gone.  So I bought a lamb shoulder chop, sprinkled it with freshly-ground rosemary, then grilled and served it over the beans with some of the gremolata and sauce left from the lamb shank.  This was delicious!

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • Beans
  • ¾ – 1 pound white beans (Great northern, navy, or cannellini)
  • warm filtered water
  • 1 Tbsp whey or lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 small onions, chopped fine
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 – 2 ½ cups chicken stock or veggie broth
  • 2 small carrots, chopped fine
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Unrefined sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Lamb shanks
  • 4 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
  • Unrefined sea salt & black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped coarse
  • 1 celery rib, chopped coarse
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
  • 3 ½ cups Bordeaux or other full-bodied red wine
  • 4 cups chicken or beef stock, or veggie broth *
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste *
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs (or ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, for a different flavor)
  • Gremolata
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves (preferably flat-leafed)
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 fresh tarragon sprigs
  • Unrefined sea salt & freshly-ground black pepper

* NOTE:  you could use one 14.5 oz can of chopped or crushed tomatoes with liquid, and reduce stock/broth to 2 – 2 ½ cups.


NOTE: If beans are soaked longer than overnight, they will cook in an hour or less. Best to start the lamb before the beans in this case.

  1. Pre-soak Beans (Optional): Cover beans with warm water.  Stir in whey or lemon juice and leave in a warm place overnight (24 hours).  The longer they soak, the shorter the cooking time.  Check after a few hours and add more water as necessary.
  2. Cook beans: Saute onion in olive oil and butter, using 3 quart saucier or Dutch oven; add wine and boil down.
  3. Drain beans, rinse and add to the pot along with 2 cups of stock/broth.  Boil for 10 minutes (very important, to ensure soft beans) and skim.
  4. Stir in lemon juice (optional), carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaf.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 3 hours, until beans are tender (presoaked beans take less time).
  5. About 30 minutes before the beans are finished, season with salt and pepper, and half of the gremolata.
  6. Braise lamb shanks: Pat lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 2750 F.
  7. 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.
  8. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to pan and sauté until onion is softened. Add wine; simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to about 3 cups.
  9. Add shanks to veggie/wine mixture.  Stir in broth, tomato paste (or canned tomatoes), and thyme (or basil). Bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes.
  10. Cover pot (or transfer to covered casserole). Cook in pre-heated oven, stirring & turning lamb shanks occasionally, 2 – 2.5 hours.
  11. Remove cover and simmer mixture 1 hour more, or until lamb shanks are tender, stirring occasionally.
  12. Gremolata: Combine ingredients in small bowl and stir to combine.
  13. Make Sauce and serve: Transfer shanks to a plate. Remove meat from the shank (it should be so tender it falls off). Keep warm, covered with foil.
  14. Strain braising liquid through a sieve into a saucepan, discarding solids.  Stir in butter and tarragon.  Boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly.  Strain sauce again through sieve into a serving bowl, and season with salt and pepper.
  15. Serve: When ready, sprinkle lamb with remaining gremolata, and serve with beans and strained sauce.
  16. Serve with wilted spinach or other greens.  And a good crusty bread.

If you have beans left over, serve on the side with a grilled lamb chop or kebabs, and some Tabouli salad. Mmmm.


  1. Epicurious recipe (
  2. Montana State Extension Service handbook on canning (

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