The first time I remember eating lamb shanks was in a hotel right across from the train station in Bordeaux, France. At the time our french language skills were rather shaky and were surprised to find MOUSE on the menu. “Surely not!”, but there it was, souris d’agneau which our pocket dictionary said was …could it be??? mouse of lamb. Well, many years later of hoping to find souris d’agneau on countless restaurant menus and enjoying several variations on the theme whenever we did find it, we introduced it to our own repertoire. The cooked shank does look a bit like a mouse with the flesh clumping up in the middle and the bone exposed, like a mouse tail?
I love cooking lamb shanks. It certainly isn’t the thing to whip up on the spur of the moment. For one thing, they are a bit awkward to handle. They are long of bone, and even turning them over in the pan is a bit of a challenge. So why do I love cooking them? Those sinewy, bony, hard to handle shanks I know will yield soft, creamy pieces of meat which will fall right off the bone and melt in your mouth. In the meantime, while the shanks are cooking, I am rewarded with the wonderful aroma of tomatoes, wine, and herbs and spices as they meld into a sauce.
Shanks are the perfect rainy day meal to prepare when one has time and is in no rush as they are much better eaten after a few hours resting, and also perfect to vacuum pack and freeze to enjoy on another rainy day when one doesn’t have time to cook and is in a rush.
Although I can never quite shake the memory of my introduction to lamb shanks and stumbling all over the souris/mouse menu entry, and in spite of my looking forward to enjoying souris d’agneau when I’m in France, I lean toward a rather Italian take on them and pair the shanks with polenta.
- 4-6 Lamb shanks
- Salt & pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 6 clove garlic, minced
- 1-28 ounce can of whole tomatoes
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons minced parsley
- 1 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice or ¼ teaspoon ground
Salt and pepper the lamb shanks.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a dutch oven over moderate heat.
Brown the shanks in the oil in batches turning two or three times to brown all the shank.
Meantime, assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Peel the carrots and cut them into 1 inch chunks.
Chop the onions, and mince the garlic.
When shanks are brown, transfer them to a plate.
Add the additional 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pot and add the onion, carrots, and garlic.
Cook for about 8 minutes, until the onions soften, but don’t brown.
Add the tomatoes, wine, beef broth, and the parsley, rosemary, thyme, juniper berries and allspice and then
Return the lamb shanks to the pot, raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil.
When it boils, reduce the heat to simmer and simmer for 2 hours.
Remove the shanks, and reduce the sauce. Using a potato masher, mash the sauce to break down the tomatoes and carrots.
Return the shanks to the sauce. Let the shanks rest in the sauce for an hour or so.
Note: Best made 1 or 2 days in advance as flavor improves and shanks become more tender.