Monday, February 13, 2012

Braised Lamb Shanks

I know, I know. I owe you guys a recap of Iron Chef Cheese. I’m slacking. But—when Steve and I made this, I just had to drop everything and write up the recipe for you. Because you need drop everything and make it just as soon as you can. I’m going to throw down a major statement and say: this is the best meal we’ve ever made. Yes, EVER. If I ordered this in a restaurant I would talk about it. I would rub the sauce in my beard if I had one. It’s so good that we’ve named a holiday after it: Shanksgiving! And you better believe it makes Thanksgiving look paltry in comparison. Tender, juicy meat that falls off the bone, packed with flavor and a kick at the end.

I picked up this recipe at Saveur and really there’s not much I would change. We halved it (giving you the halved recipe below) and it was plenty for two. And we opted not to seed the jalapeno because we like a little spice, and really thought it was the perfect amount of heat. Oh, and the directions have you toss out half the vegetables which was really unnecessary. Other than that, we mostly just followed the directions to deliciousness.

2 lamb shanks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
½ cup balsamic vinegar
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch

1/4 cup water

While this is a pretty straightforward recipe, there are a lot of steps and long cook times, so it’s definitely a weekend project. We got our lamb shanks at Fresh Market, and I would definitely suggest going there or Whole Foods. Kroger had some sad looking shanks and that won’t do this recipe justice. The easiest way to start is just to prep all the vegetables and the spice mix. That way you have everything all ready to go and can just run through it. Since I knew we’d be tossing out the herbs, I tied them together into a little herb bouquet to make it easier. Some of the leaves fell off but I figured that was ok and didn’t try to fish them all out.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix your chili powder, coriander, cumin and cinnamon in a small dish. Pat the lamb shanks dry and season with salt & pepper, plus about 1 tablespoon of the spice mix.

In a Dutch oven, heat your oil over medium high heat to sear the shanks. Be careful with this step that you don’t get the oil too hot. We did and it ended up burning some of the spices. If that does happen to you, wipe out the pot before cooking the vegetables or everything will have a burned taste. Brown the shanks on all sides, one at a time, which should take about 6 minutes each. Then set them aside.

Pour your vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, jalapenos, garlic) into the pot with your herb bundle and the remainder of the spice mix. It’s best to have the vegetables down as a bed before pouring the spice on top, in my opinion. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom, and stir occasionally until the vegetables have softened. It took about 10 minutes for us. Next, pour in the balsamic vinegar and stir until it’s mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes more. I was kind of worried about the amount of balsamic in this, but it turned out perfectly, so don’t worry!

Add your lamb shanks back into the pot and pour the chicken broth over them. Add a little salt, to taste and then bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and cook in the oven for 2 ½ hours. We turned the lamb halfway through. One tip I read a long time ago about protecting your Dutch oven when cooking—wrap the handle on the top with foil. Apparently after awhile the handle can get brittle and break, and is expensive to replace.

All right, once your lamb is cooked and the house smells fantastic, take the shanks out of the pot (carefully) and place them in separate bowls, or on a serving plate, depending on how you roll. Pour the braising liquid through a strainer to separate out the vegetables. Throw away the herb bouquet and serve the vegetables into the bowls, or on the serving plate around the shanks. Cover them with foil to keep them warm.

Skim some of the fat off the top of the braising liquid (which is easier said than done, I’m afraid). In a small bowl, whisk together the water and cornstarch and then whisk into the braising liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat and cook until a nice gravy forms. We always seem to have trouble getting sauces to thicken, but this was probably the most successful sauce we’ve ever pulled together. Pour the gravy over the shanks and veggies and enjoy! Then pencil in Shanksgiving on your calendar.

(Click here for printable recipe)


  1. Shanksgiving! Thanks for posting this recipe. I'm making it for Shanksgiving on Thursday and had a couple questions: When ordering the shanks, I could only get 4 (and needed 5). The butcher suggested doing 3 shanks and 2 osso bucco cuts (instead of 4 and 1). Any suggestions for this recipe when using both cuts? The butcher suggested putting the OB on top of the shanks. Any thoughts are appreciated!

    Shanksgiving 4 Lyfe!

    1. I'm excited to see another Shanksgiving enthusiast!
      I've actually never made osso bucco before, so I am by no means an expert. I did a little research though, and I think the butcher's suggestion is a good one. I would make sure, however, that the osso bucco is 3/4 covered by liquid, so you may have to push it down in there a little. You should turn it over halfway through as well. I did read a recipe that had osso bucco braise for 1 1/2 hour which is less than the shanks so definitely check it early so you don't overcook it. Hope that helps. Let me know how it works out and maybe I'll try it that way next year!
      Happy Shanksgiving!

    2. Thanks for getting back with me! Prepped everything last night. I just put all 5 pieces in the dutch oven (wasn't sure everything would fit - it's pretty tight). I'll let you know how things go!

      If you have any interest, you can see some pics at

    3. And a happy Shanksgiving to you as well!