Braised Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shank 3In a previous post, I’ve mentioned that when I was a boy, a young goat was the meat of choice for our Easter dinner. Goat, however, was to be replaced by Spring lamb but even its reign was cut short, since my siblings weren’t at all enamored of it. As a result, Mom switched to serving some sort of roast for our holiday meal, reserving lamb for other, not so special, nights. (Sorry that I cannot be more specific but, as I’ve also mentioned before, my attention during holiday meals was always fixated on the platter of ravioli.) For those non-holiday dinners, she would serve lamb for the 3 of us and some other dish for my siblings. Lamb shanks were most often served for no other reason, I thought, than they were so easy to prepare. Remember, she had another dinner to cook for my siblings.

Although I don’t have Mom’s recipe in written form, I know it well. We spoke of it often and she was delighted to hear that I would be serving lamb shanks for dinner. It turned out that, as much as Dad and I enjoyed lamb, Mom was crazy about it. She’d rather make 2 meals than go without her lamb.

Today’s recipe is pretty much all Mom. I did make a couple of adjustments, though. Namely, Mom used red wine and I use white with a little sherry vinegar. Then, too, for today’s recipe, I used a slow cooker and Mom’s was nowhere near large enough for lamb shanks. If that’s you or you don’t like slow cookers, this dish can just as easily be made in the oven or on the stove top. Instructions to do so follow the recipe below.

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Whether you’re celebrating Passover or getting ready for Easter, the Bartolini Clan and I wish you a very Happy Holiday.

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Lamb Shank 2*     *     *

Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb shanks (See Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • leaves and stalks from the top of a celery heart, about 1 cup
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, separated
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine (Mom used red wine)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar (Mom didn’t use any vinegar)
  • vegetable stock (See Notes) (Mom used her chicken stock)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • lemon zest for garnish, optional (See Notes)

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Lamb Shank Braise*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and sauté until golden. Remove the garlic and discard. (See Notes).
  3. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and place them into the pan, browning them on all sides. This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Remove and reserve the lamb shanks.
  5. Place all the vegetables into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until some color is achieved.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook until fragrant and its color deepens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into the slow cooker, along with the garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, and sherry vinegar.
  8. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add it to the slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper.
  9. Place the lamb shanks into the pot and add enough vegetable stock so that half of the shanks are submerged. Cover the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  10. Cook on low for 8 hours, turning over the shanks about every 90 minutes. (See Notes)
  11. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  12. Serve, garnished with lemon zest, and with the sauce on the side.

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For those without a slow cooker

Instead of using a fry pan, brown the shanks and sauté the vegetables in a Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot with a lid. Follow the recipe and place everything into the pot. Add enough vegetable stock to submerge 2/3 of the shanks. Bring to a boil over med-high heat and cover. At this point, you can:

  • Leave the pot on the stove, reduce the heat to a soft simmer, and cook for 90 to 120 minutes. Meat should be nearly falling off of the bone. Turn over the shanks occasionally.
  • Place the pot into a pre-heated 250˚ F (120˚ C) oven and cook for 3 hours. Turn over the shanks occasionally.

Serve as indicated in the recipe above.

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Lamb Shank 4*     *     *

Notes

Be sure to remove any excess fat and as much gray skin as you can. Rather than show you how I did it, you can see a pro do it HERE. It’s not the most thorough set of photos but they will give you a better idea than mine would have. (Work for food? Applications are now being accepted for a photographic assistant.)

If at all possible, make you own vegetable stock and use the flavors that you will use to braise the lamb shanks. One or two days before you cook the shanks, place one onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, 1 bay leaf, and 6 or 7 cups of water into a medium sauce pan. Over med-high heat, bring the contents to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. I let mine simmer for 2 hours and got a full quart of vegetable stock. I did not use any salt nor pepper in this stock so that I could better control both seasonings during the braising process.

Because less liquid evaporates from a slow cooker, less braising liquid is needed than when a Dutch oven is used to braise on the stove top or in the oven.

Using smashed garlic cloves to flavor the cooking oil is something Mom did all the time. It’s especially useful when sautéing vegetables, giving them garlic flavor without having pieces of garlic in the dish.

If you haven’t got 8 hours to wait for dinner, you can reduce the cooking time by setting the slow cooker’s setting to “High”. As a general rule, one hour of cooking on “High” is worth 2 hours on “Low”.

A few months ago, Chef Michael Symon mentioned that he uses citrus zest as a garnish when he serves braised meats. I decided to give it a try and, since then, I’ve used orange zest on beef cheeks and lemon zest on harissa chicken and today’s lamb shanks. In all cases, the zest added a bit of freshness to the dish that I liked very much.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • if needed, use a thickening agent —I used arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust its seasoning as needed.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

CresciaSince I’ve shared a lamb shanks recipe for Easter dinner, why not share a bread recipe, as well? Today’s blast from the past will take you to my post for the Easter bread of Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini side of my family. Braided and loaded with cheese, this bread will fill your kitchen with an irresistible aroma while it bakes. Be forewarned. Don’t bake this bread too far in advance of Easter, for it has a tendency to disappear. You can learn all about this crescia by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Roasted Vegetables PreviewRoasted Vegetables Salad with Harissa

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Grilled Rack of Spring Lamb

Carré di Abbacchio alla Griglia

As a boy, I was aware that Mom was a good cook. I’d been to enough of my friends’ homes for dinner to know that few shared Mom’s skill in the kitchen. Judging by their response, my friends came to the same conclusion when they stayed for dinner at our home. In fact, a Mom called mine one evening asking how she prepared spinach. To her surprise, upon returning home after dinner with us, my friend couldn’t stop raving about the spinach, something he refused to eat at his own home. Apparently, she had only served her family canned spinach. Over the phone, Mom gave her instructions for sautéing fresh spinach in garlic-flavored olive oil. Decades before Jamie Oliver, Mom was changing how America ate, one dinner table at a time. Incidentally, to this day, I’ve never eaten canned spinach, no matter what Popeye said or did.

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Knowing that Mom was a good cook was one thing, realizing the authenticity of her cooking was something else. During my first trip to Florence, I followed a tour book’s suggestion and dined at a family owned restaurant. Just as the book described, we were greeted by the owner/chef, taken to our table, and then he disappeared, returning a few minutes later with menus and a list of the specials. In the kitchen, just as the book stated, Mamma could be seen helping to get the orders out to the diners. I followed our host’s suggestion and ordered lamb chops. A few minutes later, I glanced into the kitchen and there was Mamma, just beyond the restaurant’s back door, grilling my chops. When I was served, I was surprised to learn that they tasted exactly — not similarly but exactly — as if my own Mom had prepared them. That was the day I realized just how authentically Italian Mom and Zia cooked. That was quite a souvenir to bring back home.

Although a recipe is listed below, today’s post is more about the method used than anything else. This was how all of our chops and steaks were prepared, no matter who manned the barbecue. This is not an exact science nor will it ever be. The only difference in method when cooking the various meats is that a little lemon juice might be added when cooking lamb. Otherwise, a simple combination of olive oil, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper are used to marinate the meats. It really is that simple but don’t take my word for it. Karen has shared her own flavorful version of this simple recipe for grilled lamb in her wonderful blog, Back Road Journal.

As for today’s lamb, a couple of days after Easter, I was pleasantly surprised to see 2 small racks (a 3 rib & a 4 rib) of Spring lamb in the meat display. I asked the butcher about them and learned that they have been trimmed to  fulfill special orders for the holiday. I bought them — at half price! — and stored them in the freezer, bringing them with me when I last visited Michigan. Believe me, after every future holiday I will be sure to check every meat counter within reason, looking for a similar deal.

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Grilled Rack of Spring Lamb Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 portions of Spring rack of lamb, 7 ribs in total, french cut
  • 1 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • rosemary, roughly chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • parsley for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1.  A couple of hours before you are to roast the lamb, remove it from the refrigerator and place on a pie plate or similar dish.
  2. Season with garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper before sprinkling with optional lemon juice and enough olive oil to lightly coat everything. The lamb is already dead. No need to drown it in oil.
  3. Set aside to marinate until you’re ready to cook. If your kitchen is warm, place the rack in the fridge until 30 minutes before you intend to cook it.
  4. Pre-heat your barbecue on high. Wrap the chop tips with aluminum foil, something I forgot to do.
  5. Place the rack directly over the heat and sear the meat for a couple of minutes before moving it to an area on the grill away from the heat.
  6. Using an instant read thermometer, we pulled the racks off of the grill when the temperature reached 120˚ F (49 C).
  7. While the racks rested, covered, I grilled the asparagus while Zia dressed the salad.
  8. The racks were served, garnished with a bit of parsley (optional).

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Notes

The olive oil marinade is not one that is left on the meat overnight. At most, the meat was left to marinate for 3 hours, with 1 to 2 hours the norm.

As you can see in the photo, the rosemary wasn’t chopped before being used.  Most, if not all, will be lost during grilling. The same is true for the garlic, so, don’t be overly concerned with chopping/dicing everything evenly.

The racks could just as easily be broiled if a barbecue or grill pan is not available. As always, do not forget about them lest your return to find Spring rack of lamb flambé.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Cherries JammedI mentioned last week that tart cherries are now in season. In my opinion, these cherries make the best pies, muffins, and jams. Yes, it can be a bit tedious pitting the little red devils but the end result certainly makes it all worthwhile. If you’re interested, you can see my recipe for making this delicious jam by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Fried Zucchini Blossoms 

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