Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomatoes and Herbs

Spices for Rub

Spring for many who crave slow roasted savory dishes can mean that it’s time for lamb — especially when there’s a special occasion to consider such as Easter.  For my family, however, this wasn’t the case.  Our tradition was far from a special dinner at home and a table set with my great grandmother’s china.  No, we were the more adventuresome type.

If my mother was successful in her relentless attempts to get my father out of bed, we’d try and make it to early service.  My mother was an amazing seamstress, so picture three perfectly dressed children (the girls in matching dresses, of course) with brand new shoes, Easter hats, and not a hair out of place, all waiting for the man of the house to get up so their day could begin. There was more than one reason to make that early service.  Father K. did the mass first on Sunday, and he was quite efficient, so rarely did the service last even an hour.  If we didn’t make the first service, then we would attend Father B’s mass which inevitably took much, much longer.  That service was always packed, too, so often we ended up sitting in the back or upstairs, and with no padded rails to kneel on.

First thing in the morning, we’d see the Easter baskets placed at the end of our beds full of candy and goodies, the best of which was usually a large chocolate foil wrapped bunny.  Each basket had exactly the same contents, because my little sister kept track and usually let my mother know it was a problem.  These baskets of goodies came in handy for what was usually a long drive after church, searching for the perfect spot to have our annual Easter picnic.  Every year the group was a bit different, but every year, we were on the road, picnic food wrapped and ready to eat sometime after the giant egg hunt.  We hunted real eggs — eggs that we’d colored ourselves, and then after finding them would end up as deviled eggs.

But lamb was nowhere to be found on the menu for that occasion.  So it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I finally tasted lamb.  Although I still don’t serve lamb as much as I do other meats, I am learning more about which cut to prepare, how to prepare it and with which flavors.

When I saw the meaty lamb shanks at our local Henry’s, I wasn’t looking for them, but had to have them knowing I’d put them to good use.  It didn’t take long to find the perfect recipe.  Absolutely perfect.

Braised Lamb Shanks in a Tomato Herb Sauce

To prepare the lamb shanks…

1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 lg. lamb shanks, about 3 lbs. total

For the braise…

1-1/2 tsp.  olive oil
2 oz. thick bacon, cut into thin strips
1 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped carrots
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2  small strips lemon peel
1  bay leaf
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. diced tomatoes in puree, canned
3/4 c. good chicken broth

For the gremolata:

4-1/2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley, flat-leafed
1-1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 tsp.  freshly cracked black pepper

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Mix first 6 ingredients well and rub over the shanks. Let stand at room temp for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F and position a rack in the lower third.

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In a lidded oven proof pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and sauté, turning until brown, about 1o minutes; remove from pan. In the same pan, over medium heat, cook the sliced bacon 1 minute. Add the onion, carrots, and celery, stir to mix and cover.  Cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic; cook 1 minute. Then mix in lemon peel, bay leaf, and thyme. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits collected on the bottom of the pan.  Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, then return lamb to the pot. Bring to boil again; cover and transfer the pot to the oven.

Cook the shanks until just tender, turning occasionally, about 1-1/2 hours. Remove the pot from the oven and tilt pot to spoon off any fat that is on the surface of the sauce. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a slow boil,  uncovered until sauce reduces enough to coat a spoon and lamb is very tender, about 20 – 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

While the lamb is in the oven, mix the parsley,  lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in small bowl for the gremolata. Transfer the lamb to a large shallow bowl and sprinkle with gremolata to serve.

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Notes:

  • This is a fabulous recipe.  It has a very Mediterranean flavor overall and is extremely tender.  There seem to be quite a few steps when the recipe is read through the first time, but they’re all very straigh forward steps and easy to accomplish.
  • The original recipe called for capocollo or pancetta, but I had bacon on hand.  As much as I am a fan of bacon, it would be easy to leave out, add some olive oil instead of the rendered fat from the bacon and procede with the recipe.  Additionally, vegetable broth could be used instead of chicken broth.
  • If you’re making this for a special occasion (instead of to feed your exhausted husband at 9:30 pm like I did…) it’s easy to prepare the other dinner items while the lamb is in the oven.  The last “boil” on the stovetop allows for last minute prep on other menu items.  We enjoyed ours with a basmati rice blend that we love.  We poured some of the sauce over the rice and it was perfect!
  • These shanks were huge.  We each only ate half, so I’ve got plenty of leftovers and am looking for something with pasta….
  • The original recipe, made with four shanks, can be found at epicurious. I simply split the recipe.

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Here are a few photos from over the years connected with Spring and Easter.  Those certainly were the days.

Easter in Key West Florida 1963

My mother lost the battle and let me keep my Easter shoes on.

 

My mouth was full of whatever goodies were sitting nearby.

Easter in Spain 1964: Somewhere in the countryside. Caught snacking.

Family & Friends ready for church.

Ready for Church: Yes, my sister and I had matching clothes.

My two older boys lookin for eggs with an audience.

My mother to my two older boys: Look. They're right in front of you.

My youngest age 5

My youngest age 5

The dessert spread

Yes, I took photos of my food then, too.

16 thoughts on “Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomatoes and Herbs

    1. Courtney, when you match your own childhood memories with those of your children, it can be a bit overwhelming. So much time has gone by. My little one with the Easter Bunny is nearly 17. Goodness. And girl, you come on over to Paradise. We can cook up a storm.

    1. Thanks Kathy. I’ve been working hard on my night shots and still have quite a bit to learn, so the feedback helps. There was so much left over that I’m sure there will be some kind of post realted to that coming up soon. ; )

  1. Oh, wow — what a great Easter post. Great memories… and I love the fact that you shared those adorable photos.

    Those lamb shanks look just fabulous… and that reminds me. I’ve got some waiting for me in the freezer. Better get to it!

  2. Well this household doesn’t celebrate Easter but that sure makes me want to make an Easter dinner! 🙂

    FYI – Am adding you to my blogroll.

  3. You are my hero. I love lamb every which way, and you did this one right. Henry’s has shanks?? I’m so going there this week. What a fabulous meal.

    (Love your pics!!)

  4. What glorious lamb shanks! Lamb was a special treat saved for when my dad was out of town because he didn’t care for the smell of lamb. My Mom loves lamb, but never wanted my dad to travel either…so very little lamb until and adult.
    Thanks for sharing your Easter memories. They sound pretty familiar, including the early Mass being faster and less crowded, plus the Easter egg hunt with real eggs.Hats, gloves, new clothes…happy memories.

  5. I know what you mean about the changing seasons and stilll wanting slow roasted dishes. I’m curing some lamb breast in the fridge right now that I’m planning on braising before the weather gets too warm.

    Great old photos!

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