The food out here

Lamb shanks, to take your mind off turkey

Posted 11/23/22

Well, it’s Thanksgiving—or likely a day or so afterward, by the time this is distributed—and I’m sure the first thing on everyone’s mind is turkey, stuffing, mashed …

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The food out here

Lamb shanks, to take your mind off turkey


Well, it’s Thanksgiving—or likely a day or so afterward, by the time this is distributed—and I’m sure the first thing on everyone’s mind is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.

What to do with all these leftovers? Well, at the risk of causing anyone some PTSD by rehashing the holiday staples, I’ve decided to change the topic entirely. Let’s cook some lamb!

That’s the line my wife gave me, as we have begun to eye the freezers we’ve been working to fill over the last year. We didn’t raise lamb ourselves, but a friend gave us some because they had a little too much for their freezer. Not being greedy we humbly accepted some shanks, since they aren’t considered a prime cut. They’ve been sitting patiently in our freezer for a few months.

Fortunately, my wife has a knack for Pinterest and cooking, and consequently found a good-looking recipe for lamb shanks. It’s been quite some time since either of us ate lamb and I’ll admit this isn’t the most simple recipe, but it also doesn’t take a master chef to accomplish. What it does take, however, is a healthy serving of time and patience.

I had nearly forgotten the brief announcement that we were going to have lamb for dinner, until I came home and opened the fridge to a large covered bowl of chopped vegetables topping the shanks and soaking in wine. We had half a bottle of merlot just asking to be cooked off, so it was an excellent time to use the shanks.

A day or so later, I arrived home with our boys to the smell of seared meat and aromatic red wine wafting all the way outside the house. Nothing makes you anticipate a meal like smelling it before you even go inside. But after going in, I was kindly informed it would be another two hours before the meal would be complete. The meat and red wine sauce were baking in a ceramic-coated Dutch oven, which prevented me from even peeking at it before it was ready. Fortunately, I had to go to church that evening, so it helped take my mind off the arrival of the much-anticipated meal.

A few short hours later, I walked into the fragrant house once again; my wife had stayed home to supervise the completion of the dish. I was ready to sink my teeth into some hearty lamb shank. She had made mashed potatoes as a bed beneath the sauce-covered shank, which proudly protruded from the center.

It was finally ready.

Now as I said, it had been a while since I’d had lamb, and then it wasn’t shank, so I had little idea what to expect. We each took a fork and pulled away a tender strip of meat, swiped it in a bit of extra sauce and took our first bites.

My wife hastily took another and another, eating her fill and enjoying the fruits of her hours of labor.

I hesitated. I took another bite, then ate some potatoes and took another. The sauce was delicious, the potatoes on point. The meat… was well cooked. However, I didn’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong, the dish was executed well and clearly, my wife had a taste for it, but lamb typically has a flavor from the lanolin in their skin. While I try to give everything a chance, it was not a flavor built for my palate.

The way out here, we try anything once, but not everything twice. They can’t all be winners, but to be very honest, it was a matter of me not liking the lamb flavor more than an issue with the recipe.

Given my wife’s opinion, if you like lamb, the recipe is surely worth an attempt. And if you’ve never eaten lamb before, I’d go so far as to say the sauce is worth giving this a good try.

Lamb shanks are tempting in a red wine marinade.
Lamb shanks are tempting in a red wine marinade.

Lamb shanks in red wine sauce

Recipe adapted from one by Nagi on food blog RecipeTin Eats,

For the lamb

  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 1/2 teaspoon cooking/kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil , separated
  • 3 garlic cloves , finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1 cup water

 For the red wine marinade

  • 1 small yellow or white onion , finely diced
  • 1 small carrot , finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 3 cups (750 ml) dry red wine, such as pinot noir
  • 5 sprigs of thyme or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

To thicken the sauce

  • 6 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Place the lamb shanks in a bowl with the marinade ingredients. Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Strain the marinade into a large saucepan. Leave the shanks, vegetables and herbs in the strainer.

Bring the marinade to a simmer, and simmer 15 minutes or until reduced by half. Scoop off and discard any scum that rises to the surface.

Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper.

Heat oil over high heat in a large, heavy pot. Sear the shanks, 2 at a time, until browned all over. Remove to a plate.

Drain excess fat from the pot, then add the oil and the vegetables and herbs from the strainer. Add the garlic and tomato paste.

Add the reduced red wine, stock and water. Stir. Add lamb shanks to the liquid.

Raise the heat, and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover and transfer to the oven for 2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and barely holding onto the bone.

Remove lamb shanks from the pot and transfer to a plate. Loosely cover with foil.

Strain the sauce into a bowl, but do not press the juices out of the vegetables. Pour the sauce back into the pot, then simmer rapidly for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat to reduce to 2 cups.

Mix the cornstarch with the water, then add to the sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes or until sauce becomes thin and syrupy.

Remove the pot from the stove. Add butter, then whisk until butter melts—the sauce will thicken more.

Place the lamb shanks on mashed potatoes or cauliflower puree, then spoon sauce over. Garnish with parsley or thyme leaves if desired.

Thanksgiving, lamb shanks


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