Lamb shanks in a rich red wine sauce = slow cooked heaven. The red wine makes an incredible stock base for this ultimate comfort food. No need to splurge on expensive wine – get the cheapest you can find! I used a $5 end-of-bin bottle in this!
I have a real soft spot for lamb shanks. I just love the look of a hunk of meltingly tender meat wrapped around the shaft. Hits my carnivore sweet-spot, every time.
Because it is such a tough cut of meat that needs slow cooking, it’s also actually quite hard to stuff up. The cook time is very forgiving – leave it in for an hour too long, and the worst that will happen is that the meat falls off the bone when you go to serve it. They can be cooked in a braising liquid, which is what I’ve done in this recipe, or they can even be roasted, did you know that? Roasted lamb shanks are beautiful. Kind of like my Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder.
I was really indecisive about which lamb shanks recipe to share. I have a recipe made with port and red wine which has really intense deep flavours and sweetness from the port. I particularly love that one because the sauce is so beautifully glossy – I’m such a sucker for glossy glazes. I also have a Moroccan one which I adore because I think the strong flavours of lamb pair so perfectly with exotic Middle Eastern spices.
But for this first lamb shanks recipe that I’m sharing on my blog, I decided to go with my classic: Lamb Shanks in a rich red wine based sauce. Red wine is the key ingredient here which depeens the flavour of the sauce. Don’t use expensive red wine!! I promise you, there is no way that anyone will know whether you used a $5 bottle (which I did) or a $40 bottle. There is a time and place for using expensive wine in cooking, like delicate red wine sauce for steaks. But for slow cooking, don’t bother!
This recipe is pretty classic, and I recently found that it is similar to the one used by a top Sydney restaurant called Three Blue Ducks. The one thing I do a bit differently to most recipes is this: I really like to get a beautiful brown crust on my lamb shanks rather than cooking it entirely submerged in the braising liquid for the whole time. So the liquid quantity is such that by the end of the cooking time, it reduces down substantially and over half the lamb shanks are exposed above the liquid. Even baked with the lid on, the exposed part of the lamb shanks gets a beautiful crust on it, like the photo below.
Because of this, the sauce reduces down so much that the flavour is really intense – too intense. So right at the end, I use hot water to thin the sauce to my desired consistency and taste. Oh – and the other thing I do is puree the sauce to make a thick, smooth gravy. This is purely optional – the sauce is really glossy and thick anyway, but it has some chunks in it. Same flavour, just a slightly different texture, that’s all!
Fabulous recipe to make on the weekend when you have some time on your hands. Go forth and enjoy – it’s worth every minute of slow cooking!
– Nagi x
- 4 lamb shanks, around 1 lb / 500g each (Note 1)
- 2 tsp salt, separated
- 2 - 3 tbsp olive oil, separated
- 1 cup onion, finely diced (brown, yellow or white)
- 1 cup carrot, finely diced (optional) (Note 2)
- 1 cup celery, finely diced (optional) (Note 2)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2½ cups red wine, full bodied (good value wine, not expensive! Note 3)
- 28 oz / 800g can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken stock (or water)
- 5 sprigs of thyme (preferably tied together), or 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves or 4 fresh
- ½ to 1½ cups hot water
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.
- Pat the lamb shanks dry and sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt and black pepper.
- Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy based pot (dutch oven is ideal) over high heat.
- Sear the lamb shanks in 2 batches until brown all over, about 5 minutes.
- Remove lamb onto a plate and drain excess fat (if any) from the pot.
- Turn the heat down to medium low. Heat remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in the same pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté for 10 minutes until the onion is translucent.
- Add the red wine and turn up the heat to medium high. Bring it to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to mix all the brown bits into the wine. Simmer for 3 minutes to evaporate the alcohol a bit (Note 4).
- Add the remaining ingredients (including remaining 1 tsp salt and pepper) and stir to combine.
- Place the lamb shanks into the pot, squeezing them in to fit so they are mostly submerged. (Note 1)
- Bring back up to simmer, cover, then transfer to the oven for 2 hours.
- Turn the lamb shanks, cover, then return to the oven for another 30 minutes (so 2½ hours in total). The lamb should be very tender, the exposed surface above the liquid should be browned and the sauce should be reduced down to about ¼ of the original amount.
- Carefully transfer the lamb to a plate and pick out the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
- Skim excess fat off the surface of sauce. Use a stick blender to puree the sauce to make it smooth and thick. Use hot water to adjust the thickness and intensity of the sauce. (Note 5) Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the lamb shanks on mashed potato or cauliflower puree with plenty of sauce!
Here in Australia, Woolworths sells lamb shanks with the shaft partially cut so you can bend them to make them fit into the pot. You can ask your butcher to do that if you are concerned they are too long, or to trim the shaft slightly.
2. Onion, carrot and celery is the "holy trinity" of slow cooking. From Europe, including France, Spain and Italy, to Cajun cooking (jambalaya!), sautéing equal parts of these 3 ingredients forms the starting base of many of the best dishes to come out of these countries.
While including carrot and celery isn't going to "break" this dish, it does "make" it!
3. Use a good value full bodied red wine, like cabaret sauvignon or merlot - no need to use expensive wine. Shiraz is ok too, or any mix of these 3. Pinots are not suitable, they are too light. You can tell if a red wine is "full bodied" by looking at the colour - if they are a dark, deep red, then they are full bodied. If they are lighter and almost see through, then they are light reds.
4. Most of the alcohol in the red wine will evaporate during this step but not completely - it will finish evaporating during the slow cooking. There is not a single trace of alcohol or even red wine flavour in the finished dish.
5. This step is optional. Also, if you don't have a stick blender, you can either puree it in a blender (but cool the sauce down a bit first, then reheat it after pureeing).
6. This makes more sauce than you will need. The leftover sauce is fabulous tossed through pasta.
7. To make this in a slow cooker, start with the recipe in a skillet. Follow the recipe up to simmering the wine in the skillet, then place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. You won't get the brown crust and you will have far more liquid so DO NOT use the extra 1 cup of water in the recipe. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, reduce it on the stove or puree it.
8. Stovetop method - to cook this on the stove, cook for about 2 hours on low, ensuring that you check it at 1 hour then every 30 minutes thereafter to ensure there is enough braising liquid (because liquid evaporates faster on the stove). Turn the lamb shanks twice. You won't get the brown crust, but the flavour is the same!
9. Cauliflower puree - boil cauliflower florets until soft, then puree with butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper. Use milk to adjust the consistency to your taste - I like mine very soft and creamy, as you can see in the photo.
Nutrition per serving. Note: The calories show below is higher than reality because it does not take into account the drained fat (after browning) and also, most of the fat in the lamb shanks cooks into the sauce and there is far more sauce than you need for 4 servings.