Braised Lamb Shanks

Here is a recipe of mine that I cook on a regular basis these days. I love lamb, but it is a wee bit pricey over here in the States compared to Britain, so to cook it here regularly, I go for the cheapest available cut – the shank. When I think of famous British lamb dishes, it is one that springs straight to mind, and yet, it is missed out of Jane Grigson’s English Food. (For those of you not in the know: I am trying to cook every recipe in the aforesaid tome – this link – and part of this blog’s job is to fill in the gaps.) At some point, I shall write a blog post about lamb and mutton in general with a list of British dishes – I will be aiming to add every recipe for those dishes too.

The shank is the bottom part of the rear legs of the sheep, and it is normally removed from the upper portion; the meat in the shank is much tougher than the rest of the leg and therefore needs to be cooked longer, if you wanted to roast an entirely whole leg, you would either end up with tough shank meat, or overcooked leg meat. So long, slow cooking is what you need for lamb shanks – if you look at one, you’ll see that there is a lot of connective tissue there, and it is this that takes time to break down. If you haven’t cooked this cut of meat before don’t be squeamish – this tough tissue becomes wonderfully soft and unctuous if you treat it right and it is very easy to cook. All you need is a little time…

When I was doing the research for this recipe, I expected to find many old recipes for this classic, and yet I couldn’t a single recipe for it from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries – many books mention the cut, but use it only for stock-making. However, they do suddenly appear around the time of the Great War. So perhaps rationing made this dish popular. If anyone has any information on this, I would be most grateful.

The recipe I give here is simple and straight-forward and can easily be played around with. Adding some tomatoes and warming spices as well as some dried fruit such as raisins or prunes would give it a Moroccan touch, or adding some chilies, cumin, coriander seed and leaf as well as some crispy-fried onions and yoghurt would make it an Indian-style feast. I am, for the purposes of the blog, going for the classic British style. What makes this recipe good is the inclusion of gently fried onions and a good health dash of Worcester sauce.

Ingredients:

2 large, or 4 small lamb shanks

one roughly chopped onion

one roughtly chopped carrot

one roughly chopped celery stick

one leek, sliced, with trimming reserved

8 peppercorns

a spring each of rosemary and thyme

parsley stalks

a bay leaf

a glass of red wine (optional)

a tablespoon of sunflower oil

3 thinly-sliced cloves of garlic

one thinly-sliced onion

4 oz thinly-sliced mushrooms

one carrot, diced

one leek, sliced

Worcester sauce

salt and pepper

Place the shanks and the chopped onion, carrot, celery and leek trimmings in a roasting tin and roast for 25 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F). When nicely browned, place the lamb and vegetables in a large heavy-duty pan, along with the herbs and spices. Deglaze your roasting tin with the optional glass of wine, or simply use some water.

Pour the nice burnt bits along with the wine or water into the pan. Add water to almost cover, bring to a boil and simmer with a close lid for three hours.

When the meat is cooked, fish it out and put on a plate and strain the stock into a jug. Give the pan a quick wipe with a cloth and put it back on the heat along with the oil. When good and hot add the onions and garlic keep them moving in the pan and after three or four minutes, add the mushrooms. Fry for until the onions are tinged with brown. Now add the stock back to the pan along with the carrot and leek and bring to boil, and reduce the stock by around half its volume.

Place the shanks in the pan, turn down the heat and let them warm through again. Season with the Worcester sauce, salt and pepper.

For me, lamb shanks must be served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli, kale or cabbage.

3 Comments

Filed under food, history, Meat, Recipes

3 responses to “Braised Lamb Shanks

  1. Kathryn Marsh

    In terms of English food I think of lamb shanks as a very modern – last twenty years really – food. I discovered them when we lived in Glasgow in the sixties and I discovered that you can’t make “soup”, then the foundation of Scottish lunch, without them. In those days housewives headed for the butchers shop first thing in the morning and those who got there earliest got a lamb shank, later comers got a piece of neck about four inches long after the shanks had sold out. Then it was to the butchers for a leek, an onion, a large carrot and a “slice of turnip”(swede), a stick of celery and a bunch of parsley and thyme. Soup mix of barley, peas etc was of course in the cupboard, stocked up every couple of weeks from the grain store where one scooped it from open sacks along with its separate ingredients and a huge range of meals and flours – and even wartime leftovers such as dried egg. Diced veg, lamb shank, herbs and soup mix went on a low light at about 10am. At five to twelve the meat and herbs were fished out and the meat, which of course fell off the bone, diced and returned to the pan for the kids and husband coming home for lunch.
    Since my husband was eating sandwiches at work and I didn’t have kids I didn’t cook it often, though I certainly acquired a liking for its delicacy of flavour and was always happy if a neighbour invited me in – the whole building was scented with it every lunchtime as at least five of the ten households would be eating the same dish on any given day. But I did experiment with the ingredients for supper dishes and turned them into a braise, thickened with the soup mix, which I can recommend – just chuck the soup mix in when you add the water for a one pot dish.
    In post war England the shank was chopped and added to the neck as part of the tray labelled “stewing meat” and I don’t member it ever appearing whole south of the border until it became a restaurant dish. I did have Welsh friends who used whole lamb shanks in stew, fishing out the bones before serving it.
    If you’ve never tried it I recommend getting hold of a big piece of boned beef shin (obviously getting the bones cut into lengths and serving roast marrowbones separately) and braising it with vegetables, with or without stuffing – another good one from Grandma who always stuffed hers but doesn’t specify what herbs she used in the mix along with the breadcrumbs and chopped beef fat (and sometimes bacon fat). I like rosemary and a lot of black pepper but don’t use garlic in this dish – one of the few things I cook with no garlic in it! Grandma’s recipes are more aide memoirs than recipes – she assumes one knows what vegetables and herbs go with what and that one knows basic techniques. And what is in season – my aunt once told me that when she asked what a rolled shoulder of mild cured bacon should be stuffed with for roasting she got told “rabbit vegetables well chopped” – we decided that she meant the leaves that they would have gathered in the hedgerows to feed the rabbits so dandelion greens, sorrel, wild carrot and nettles probably featured. I meant to try it last time I cured half a pig but left the shoulder in salt too long for it to be good for roasting.

  2. buttery77

    Wowzas Kathryn! Thanks for the information on this one! I didn’t realise it was such recently-popular dish. I rarely use lamb shanks just for stock, though perhaps they are a little more expensive than they used to be now that they are trendy.
    I have braised shin of beef before – it is one of very favorite meals. You can’t beat this kind of cooking. It’s having the time to cook it that is the problem! Even though you aren’t doing anything to it for three hours or whatever, you still need to be pottering about the house all day, though you have inspired me to cook it again. i’ll see what they have down at my local farmer’s market this weekend….

  3. Pingback: Tail to Nose Eating | British Food: A History

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