Lamb is a luxury food around here. We served braised lamb shanks for a company dinner and actually ended up with leftovers–little bits of stray meat mostly, and some of the braising liquid. Shanks, which consist of a hunk of bone with some meat stuck on it, ought to be considered spare parts. Since they cook into tender, unctuous, and terribly flavorful, rich nuggets, they taste like more than the sum of their parts.
I cooked the shanks according to directions in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, and the first thing I noticed is that I had to treat the lamb like it was white meat: chicken stock and white wine for the liquid. There were lots of onions, some garlic, rosemary, all the usual suspects. I used a roasting pan with a lid and cooked it three hours, or until the lamb was so tender that the bones slid right out, and the rich marrow in them slipped free.
I ended up serving it on a bed of polenta. Lots of shank recipes make it clear that one can add lentils or beans to the pot of shanks for a cassoulet sort of dish. So that is what I did with the leftovers.
The cannellini beans I grow for drying are called Silver Cloud, and the crop last summer was plentiful. Beans are easy to use, especially when you remember to soak them overnight or have recourse to a pressure cooker (which, I know, scares some people). They soak up rich juices in a dish like this, and make the lamb go a lot farther in the servings department while maintaining nutrition, in case you care about that.
Because the flavors develop over time, this dish is ideal for cooking ahead and reheating later. That means you can get it ready when you have time for the long cooking it needs, but reheat it for a fast meal. Plan on one shank per person, and definitely degrease the juices. I was making several shanks, and rather than brown them in my Dutch oven, I put them in a roasting pan and roasted them at 425 degrees for about fifteen minutes. If you do just three or four, don’t bother with the oven step.
Lamb Shanks with Cannellini
4 lamb shanks
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry vermouth
2 cups canned tomatoes
2 cups white or cannellini beans, cooked
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Brown the shanks in a heavy pot with a little olive oil in the bottom, turning to brown them on all sides. Add the onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and the chicken broth. Cover the pot, and maintain the heat at simmer for an hour-and-a-half, or until the lamb feels tender when poked with a fork and the bone is loosened. At this point you can refrigerate the lamb for another day. Pour off the liquid and allow the grease to rise, then spoon it off or use a degreasing pitcher. Add the degreased juices back to the lamb.
When you are ready to finish the dish, add the vermouth, tomatoes, bay leaf, and beans, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer another hour. Taste, adjust seasonings.
Makes four to six servings.