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Cold Weather Calls for Heartier Braises (wine optional, but recommended)

I’m not sure why, but somehow shanks have become very special. Of course, most of the credit goes to Osso Bucco… marrow from the cross-cut bone and creamy, saffron-scented risotto comes standard. Who are we to complain?

Still, we have to report that you are officially missing out if you haven’t tried browning lamb shanks and then slow-cooking them in a mixture of garlic, onions, spices, and a hearty splash of white wine, stock, and tomatoes.

Of course, braised lamb--any spicy lamb dish, for that matter—pairs well with hearty red wine. We find merlot to be a very versatile accompaniment to assertive, gamey dishes. From rich roast ducks to dark curries, our cousins’ Rombauer Vineyards 2009 Merlot stands up to spicy red meats and rich game without clashing or getting lost.

If none of the accompaniments listed below appeal, please see Wild Rice Dressing, Kale Caesar, Sautéed Greens, Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Dukkah-spiced Yogurt, Warm Barley, Mushroom, and Asparagus Salad, or Green Rice.

Braised Lamb Shanks
4 servings

Lamb shanks are the shin portion of the legs. Foreshanks are the meatiest and the most available. Front or back, most lamb shanks are cut longer than the more familiar veal shanks and have enough meat attached so that one per person gets a satisfying portion. The shank contains a good deal of connective tissue, which, when cooked by the slow, moist heat of a braise, produces a velvety sauce. Substitute lamb shanks in any recipe for braised veal shank or beef ribs or oxtail.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Trim most of the external fat from:
            4 meaty meaty, lamb shanks (about 3 to 4 pounds)
Season with:
            1 teaspoon salt
            ½ teaspoon black pepper
Heat in a large Dutch oven over high heat:
            2 tablespoons olive oil
Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the shanks and keep warm. Pour off the fat from the pot. Add:
            2 tablespoons olive oil
            2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
            2 tablespoons chopped garlic
Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are quite soft. Sprinkle with:
            1 teaspoon ground coriander
            1 teaspoon ground cumin
            ½ teaspoon black pepper
            Pinch of ground cinnamon
            Pinch of ground allspice
Stir well to coat the onions. Add:
            2 cups chicken stock chicken or lamb stock or broth or water
            1 cup dry white wine
            ⅓ cup tomato puree
Increase the heat and bring to a boil. Return the lamb shanks to the pan, cover, and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1 to 1½ hours. Add:
            2 cups carrots, sliced
            2 cups diced, peeled winter squash, such as butternut or Hubbard
Cover and bake until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Skim off the fat from the surface of the sauce. Add:
            2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
            2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or 2 tablespoons dried mint
            2 teaspoons Harissa, see below
Taste and adjust the seasonings. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Serve with:
            Orzo, Rice Pilaf, braised lentils, or white beans


1/2 cup

This fiery pepper paste from North Africa is stirred into seafood stews, soups, herb salads, and vegetable dishes, tossed with black olives, and used as an ingredient in sauces for brochettes, tagines, and couscous.

Toast in a small dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan often to prevent burning, until very aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes:
            1 teaspoon caraway seeds
            1 teaspoon coriander seeds
            ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Remove from the heat and let cool, then grind to a fine powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add and grind until smooth:
            2 garlic cloves, quartered
            Salt to taste
Add and grind until well combined:
            3 tablespoons sweet paprika
            1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
            1-2 tablespoons tablespoon olive oil
The harissa will be very thick and dry. To store, transfer the paste to a small jar and cover with:
            Olive oil
It will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 6 months.

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Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Lightly grease a 9x13" baking pan. Cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, until light and fluffy: