I’m not a lazy cook – not like I am for, say, exercising, or getting to those unfinished house repair things. In fact, there are many cooking/baking projects that I enjoy simply because they require an investment of time and concentration, and a good degree of aggravation along the way – and I’d guess that it has a lot to do with the fact that most other cooks and bakers are not willing to take up the challenge. But I’ll share a secret with you – and maybe you’ve recognized this secret too – there is NO correlation between the complexity of a cooking/baking project and it’s final enjoyment! Oh, how true.
And for me, a prime example of this theorem is Braised Lamb Shanks. Yeah, it may be a tiny bit more difficult a task than say a good hamburger, but not much. You heat a Dutch Oven, you brown your shanks, you throw in some chopped veggies and herbs, and finally you pour in some stock/broth and a bottle of red wine – and the whole thing goes into a slooow oven for three hours. That’s minimal work, my friends – and the end result is an enjoyment far beyond your investment.
On our last trip into Eugene (our closest “real” city) we wound up at Long’s Meat Market, tracking down head cheese for the making of one of my favorite sandwiches, Ban Mi (a Vietnamese culinary masterpiece! Of which I will expound later.), when I noticed some lamb shanks in the meat case – on a whim, I got them too. Now, admittedly, I don’t buy like this often – although I’m a real believer in seeking out the best ingredients in order that your end result be of equal quality, I’m not happy when asked to pay double or triple for the pleasure. But strangely, lamb shanks are priced so cheaply that even when you buying the best, they are apparently still cheap. These were “Free Range Lamb”, only grass fed – no hormones or antibiotics, and hailed from “Anderson Ranches” right here in Oregon – I looked forward to this meal.
I used this recipe, as I suggested I’d do yesterday – and it produced an excellent end result. There is a paradox about dishes like Braised Lamb Shanks, and it is that it’s both simple and at the same time, rich! Yesterday, I mentioned that the shank/hock area of an animal is always an area where flavor seems concentrated – and this is what gives the finished dish its richness. I checked it at two and a half hours, and it was done perfectly (for me that means, meat has pulled away from the bone, significantly, is very tender, but not so tender that it falls off the bone.). I’m glad I didn’t let it go to 3 hours, because then when I reheated for serving, it truly would have fallen off the bone – so be careful.
You also may want to think about how thick you’d like the sauce to be. Without any thickener, there is not enough collagen to naturally thicken this sauce – so you may wish to add flour – a tablespoon for each cup of liquid – and let it cook in the pan fats for several minutes before adding the liquids. I made one other recipe change (of course), since I was using a concentrated stock, and I feared over salting the sauce, I only used one cup of beef stock, and one cup of leftover morning coffee. Coffee is an old pot roast trick that I learned long ago – it’s a nice addition – and zero sodium too.
One of my true comfort foods – we all have our list, right? But Braised Lamb Shanks is also a great dish for holiday dinner guests too. And what could be better on a cold winter night – simple, easy, impressive, and damn delicious too. Try it soon.