By Cat, May 2011 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Lamb shanks are not the same as ‘leg of lamb,’ although both are part of the leg. A typical confusion is shown in the photo, right, with a ‘leg of lamb’ on the left (rack of lamb on right), but that ‘leg’ is really a shank.
- The shank is typically from the upper part of 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.(3) 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, plus the shank portion with round bone, and is usually roasted. It is also possible to purchase the shank portion of the lamb’s hind leg; i.e., the leg of lamb with the sirloin half removed; it is usually roasted. (3)
I love braising a lamb shank because it is fairly easy, with only a small amount of prep, and then a long, slow braise which requires little attention. It is very tender and flavorful, and benefits from the use of herbs and other flavor sources during the braise.
You can braise on stove-top in a saucier, but I much prefer braising in the oven, en papillote, as in this recipe, because it’s easier for the meat to take up the flavors of the veggie mix.
Lamb Shank Braised with Vegetables en Papillote
This recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (1), originally by Molly Stevens, and serves 2 – 4. It employs a different method of braising, using aluminum foil (to retain heat and moisture) that promises to be delicious. However, using aluminum bothers me because this toxic heavy metal can leach into the food. True ‘en papillote’ uses a parchment wrap. So I line the foil with the parchment, then lay the shank and veggies on the parchment, to protect the food from the aluminum.
I love the combination of flavors, and this recipe is easily adapted to fewer or more shanks.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 2 lamb shanks (about 1 lb each), trimmed
- 1 Tbsp lard plus ½ Tbsp olive oil
- unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Veggie mix:
- 4 or more medium carrots (originally 2 carrots)
- 4 or more medium leeks (white & light-green parts), or mix of leeks and scallions (originally 2 leeks)
- 1-2 shallots, halved (optional)
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 strips orange zest
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs (optional)
- crushed red pepper flakes
- Deglaze: ¼ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 2 slices
- cast iron skillet
- aluminum foil
- parchment paper
- baking sheet
- Position oven rack in lower third of oven, and preheat to 300°F.
- Prep lamb: Pat lamb shanks dry, trim. To trim: first cut away any silverskin and excess fat; then sever the tendons at the narrow end of the shank by inserting knife under each one and sliding along the bone. See Fine Cooking: How to prepare & trim a lamb shank (2) for photo illustrations.
- Rub salt and pepper all over the meat; let rest while you prep the veggies and papillote.
- Prep veggies: Wash then halve leeks lengthwise, and cut into 1 ½ inch lengths. Do same with carrots. If using fennel, cut crosswise into crescents, or vertically into 8 sections.
- Trim rosemary sprigs, and cut strips of orange zest using a potato peeler.
- Prep en papillote: Cut 2 each, 18”x18” squares of heavy-duty foil and arrange similar squares (16″x16″) of parchment paper on top. Arrange on each: half the leeks and carrots, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 strip of orange zest. Season with red pepper flakes, salt & pepper. NOTE: if using just one shank, or 2 small shanks, less than 1 lb each) you need only 1 each square of foil and parchment.
- Brown shanks: Heat oil in skillet over medium heat, then brown lamb shanks on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Do in batches as necessary to avoid crowding. Transfer each shank to a foil & parchment square, arranging on top of the veggies, drawing up the sides of the packets to contain the juices, but do not seal yet.
- Deglaze: Add wine to skillet to deglaze, then remove from heat and divide the juices evenly among each papillote. Dot each with butter, then fold the edges of the parchment to form rectangular packets and seal; then seal the foil over the parchment.
- Oven Braise: Arrange packets evenly on baking sheet, without overlapping (they can touch). Place in oven to cook for 2½ – 2¾ hours. Check one packet for doneness by carefully opening packet – beware of scalding steam! Meat should be fork-tender; if not, reseal and continue to bake another 10 – 15 minutes.
- Serve: Transfer contents of each packet to plate or pasta bowl, surrounding the shanks with the veggies and juices. Remove rosemary and orange zest if desired.
Testing 6/5/12: Made 1 shank, so halved all ingredients. Had a tiny piece of shallot to use up so added that to the veggies. Used 12”x12” square parchment and foil (can’t get 16×16 parchment here). It was a tight fit, but it worked. The parchment stayed sealed and didn’t leak into the foil; the foil helped to hold heat. The end result: took 2 hours, 45 minutes until tender, but tender and delicious it was! I’d only intended to eat half the shank but it was so good I ate it all (plus it was a smaller shank). The only change I’d make is to use more veggies with each shank, as I had to cook an additional veggie side dish to get my quota; I prepared wilted spinach and sauteed zucchini slices, along with my usual ¼ beet. Recipe updated with the increase in veggies.
Testing 7/8/13: Made 1 shank; didn’t have leek so used a small shallot and 2 green onions. Also added half a fennel bulb, cut into sections the size of the carrot pieces. Again, hard to seal the parchment but the foil will hold it closed. Oops, forgot the red pepper flakes. Served with braised beet greens and snap peas, and half a small boiled beet. Result: Delicious. All the veggies cooked to really soft and the fennel added nice flavor – I didn’t miss the red pepper flakes.
Testing 12/28/14: Made 2 shanks but enclosed them together in larger sheets of parchment and foil. Didn’t have leek so used 2 shallots. Did not use fennel bulb. Was a tight fit to wrap it up but I managed. Got a late start so into oven at 5:30, and I upped heat to 325°F. Done at 7:45; total braising time: 2 hr 15 min. Result: Delicious and nicely tender, but would have been better with fennel.
Testing 6/2/8/19: Made 2 shanks; one is quite large (1.44 lb) and the other much smaller (0.86 lb) for total of 2.5 lb. Trimmed shanks as in Fine Cooking article (2). Used one parchment/foil combo for both shanks, placing prepped leek, carrot, fennel bulb & leaves, rosemary, orange zest, and red pepper flakes in center of parchment, then prepped shanks on top, and poured oil/vermouth deglaze over. Wrapped parchment, but couldn’t quite fold to seal. Then wrapped and sealed larger foil. Oops, forgot to dot with butter. Set in fridge to marinate at 11 AM. Into 300°F oven 4 PM. Tested done at 6:15, total 2 hours 15 min.. Turned off oven but left the wrapped shanks/veggies, in oven to keep warm while I finished cooking side dishes: wild rice and braised asparagus/broccoli, about 15 minutes. Result: excellent! as always. Have about 2 – 3 servings left; cut all meat off the bones and put into fridge with the veggies and sauce. Will give the bones to a friend who has dogs.
- Fine Cooking (April/May 2011) recipe: finecooking.com/recipes/lamb-shanks-en-papillote-leeks-carrots-rosemary-orange.aspx
- Fine Cooking: How to prepare and trim a lamb shank (finecooking.com/item/30374/how-to-prep-lamb-shanks)
- Meals for You, on cuts of lamb (mealsforyou.com/cgi-bin/customize?meatcutslamb.html)