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
Preheat oven to 350°F and position a rack in the lower third.
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.
- 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.
Here are a few photos from over the years connected with Spring and Easter. Those certainly were the days.