The other day, I looked at my calendar, and I couldn’t believe it still said February. March, where are you? Spring, where are you? I am very ready for winter to be over. The last good thing about winter that I can think of, though, are these lamb shanks. You can’t have lamb shanks in the summer. Maybe at the very beginning of spring and the very end of fall, but for the most part, they’re solidly a winter dish. They require about 2 hours in the oven and time on the stovetop before that — perfect winter activities, not so perfect summer ones. Why do they have to be cooked so long? Because lamb shanks are a very tough cut of meat. But that also means they’re a very cheap cut — the 8 shanks above cost a grand total of $32, meaning $4 per shank/serving.
I love tough cuts of meat like this that are transformed through slow-cooking. In the end, they are so tender you hardly need a knife. It’s important when making these to brown them properly at the beginning; that caramelization gives them a real richness of flavor. This is not a fast recipe, but it’s also not difficult in the slightest. Prepping all the veggies takes a while, as does browning, and then the shanks need to cook for a couple hours (largely unattended). I made these for a dinner party while I was home in Berkeley, and did most of the cooking the day before and just finished them (and re-heated them in the process) right before dinner.
Spiced Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks
Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef
Serves 4 (I doubled the recipe, but here it is in its original 4-person size, with a few of my changses)
4 lamb shanks
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 small dried red chili (or 2 tsp. chopped fresh chili)
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise and finely sliced
6 ribs of celery, halved lengthwise and finely sliced
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3/4 c. dry white wine
6 anchovy fillets
two 14-oz. cans plum tomatoes, drained
1 handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped (or fresh basil or marjoram)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Season lamb with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Smash up coriander seeds (I did this by putting them on a cutting board and covering them with a sheet of wax paper, then going at them with my mom’s meat mallet; if you are mallet-less, you can use a spice grinder or a rolling pin. I asked a foodie friend at dinner about this, and he said the coriander seeds basically melt in cooking, and indeed there weren’t any sharp chunks of coriander husk, so don’t stress to much about mashing them into a powder). Tear off stem of dried chile, pour/scrape seeds into trash. Cut up chili. Mix smashed coriander seeds and chili pepper with rosemary and oregano.
3. Rub all over the lamb, pressing in well (I put the lamb on a wax-paper covered baking sheet for this). Dust lamb with flour.
4. Heat a thick-bottomed casserole/roasting pan/pot (oven-proof) over medium-high heat; add the oil, brown the meat on all sides (this took almost 10 minutes a side, probably) and remove from the pan (return to baking sheet you used for prep).
5. Add garlic, carrot, celery, onions, and a pinch of salt and cook until softened (10-15 minutes). Add balsamic vinegar. (Jamie says to “allow it to reduce to a syrup”; I just mixed it in the vegetables and cooked everything for a few more minutes, with no distinctly syrupy effects). Pour in white wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Add anchovies, evenly distributing them around the pan (the anchovies melt during cooking; their flavor isn’t distinctly fishy, they just really help bring out the flavor of the lamb). Add canned tomatoes, kept whole (they’ll break down during cooking).
6. Shake the pan (to evenly distribute) and add the lamb back into it.
7. Bring to a boil, put the lid on (or cover with foil, if using a roasting pan as I did), and simmer in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove lid and cook for another 1/2 hour. (I split this cooking into 2 days — the 1 1/2 hours covered on day 1 and the 1/2 hour uncovered right before dinner on day 2.)
8. Taste for seasoning (Jamie also says to skim off any fat, which I skipped). Stir in a handful of your roughly chopped fresh herbs (I forgot this step, despite having parsley from our garden at the ready, but it would add a nice burst of freshness, so I highly recommend it, if you can remember).
Serve with potatoes, polenta, couscous, rice, or — if you’re really lucky — your mom’s cassoulet.