My little brother is getting married this summer and called me while I was in the midst of making these lamb shanks, asking what types of pots and pans he should register for. I had to laugh because first of all, when did my baby brother grow up and become so domestic and second, the question was timed so appropriately. It took me about half of a second to come up with the item to put at the top of the list.
A Dutch oven!!! You need to register for a Dutch oven, I think I might have screamed. I don’t think mine has seen the inside of the cupboard since August. If you scroll back on blog posts from the last few months, you’ll see the tell-tale red handles peeking out all over the place, holding everything from hearty soups to slow roasted pork shoulder to Bolognese sauce.
But, anyway, let’s get back to the lamb. My latest go-around with the old Dutch oven was braising a couple of shanks last weekend that have now taken the lead for this winter’s best dinner at home. I braised them in red wine with fennel seeds, red pepper, ginger, and golden raisins and topped them off with a fragrant mint and Meyer lemon gremolata. The result was amazingly tender meat with Moroccan undertones. There was a little heat from the red pepper and ginger, a touch of sweetness from the raisins, and a burst of freshness from the citrus-herb gremolata.
Sound good? Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your Dutch oven and let’s get cooking!
Start by browning the lamb. Mmm…it’s been a while since I’ve cooked lamb. I love the way it smells.
When the meat has been browned on all sides, pull it out of the pot and start building your braise. Sauté chopped carrot, celery, and onion. Add a few squirts of tomato paste and a couple of chunks of ginger root. Toast crushed fennel seeds and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Splash in some red wine and return the lamb to the pot.
Add some chicken stock to almost cover the meat, then bring it to a simmer, cover, and pop it in a low oven until the meat is just barely holding onto the bone.
When the meat is done, pull it out and tent it with foil while you take care of the finishing touches. Pour the braising liquid through a sieve to remove the chunks of vegetables. Put the strained liquid back on the pot, add the raisins, and return to the stovetop. The raisins will plump as the delicious pan juices reduce into an incredibly flavorful sauce.
While that’s happening, mix up a gremolata. Traditionally, gremolata is a condiment of fresh parsley and lemon that is used to garnish osso buco. I love sprinkling it over all sorts of braised meats to add a fresh highlight. I made this one with parsley, mint, shallot, and minced Meyer lemon peel.
Put the shanks back into the pot to take a quick swim through the sauce before you plate it all up. I served the shanks over a mound of couscous to absorb all of the juices.
And there we go, another gift from my Dutch oven.
- 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
- 2 Lamb Shanks (mine were on the small side, about 1 ½# total weight), excess fat and silver skin removed
- 1 medium or ½ large Onion, roughly chopped
- 1 Carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 stalk Celery, roughly chopped
- 2 in. piece of Fresh Ginger, cut in 2 or 3 chunks
- ½ tsp. Fennel Seeds, lightly crushed
- ⅛-1/4 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
- 1 c. Red Wine
- 2-3 c. Chicken Broth (homemade or low-sodium)
- ¼ c. Golden Raisins
- For the Gremolata:
- ¼ c. chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley
- ¼ c. thinly sliced Mint Leaves
- about 1 Tbsp. minced Shallot
- about 1 Tbsp. minced Meyer Lemon Peel (or a combination of orange and lemon)
- Preheat oven to 325° with a rack positioned in the lower third.
- Rub the lamb shanks liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer the lamb to a plate. If there is more than just a thin coating of fat in the pot, pour off any excess.
- Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, and ginger to the pot, season with a pinch of salt, and sauté over medium-high heat until the vegetables soften slightly and the onions are slightly golden, 6-8 minutes. Move the vegetables to one side of the pan. Drop the tomato paste into an empty spot and allow to cook for a moment; in another empty spot, toast the crushed fennel seeds and red pepper flakes for a minute. Stir the tomato paste and spices into the vegetables, add the red wine, and bring to a boil.
- Return the lamb shanks to the pot, nestling them among the vegetables. Add chicken stock to almost cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven. Braise, turning the shanks every half hour or so, until the meat is very tender when poked with the tip of a knife, but still attached to the bone. My not-huge shanks were fork tender after about 1½ hours; if you’re working with larger shanks, it may take a bit more time.
- Remove the lamb shanks from the pot, transfer to a plate, and tent with foil. Pour the braising liquid through a mesh sieve to strain out the chunks of vegetables and the fennel seeds. Pour the liquid back into the pot and return to the stovetop. If there’s a lot of fat floating on the top, skim some off. Add the golden raisins and bring to a boil. Allow the raisins to plump and the liquid to reduce to a saucy consistency, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the gremolata. Combine the minced parsley, mint, shallot, and lemon peel in a small bowl and toss.
- Taste the reduced braising liquid. Season, if necessary, and return the lamb to the pot. Spoon the sauce and plumped raisins over the lamb.
- Serve the lamb shanks over couscous, polenta, or a vegetable puree to soak up the sauce. Sprinkle with a bit of the gremolata and pass the rest tableside.
Hey, before you put that Dutch oven away, here are a few more braising adventures to consider!