Spring is not so far away from the Channel Islands, honestly, Jersey Royal potatoes are growing under vast fields of plastic sheeting and soon the Narcissus will be blooming and we can start to look forward to fresh Lamb. Not so long ago frozen New Zealand lamb was a much cheaper option than home reared produce but now you can source delicious Welsh and Dorset Lamb at really keen prices. In the Channel Islands, the sort after lamb is from Sark, eating a rich diet of coastal grasses and sea herbs which helps flavour the meat. One of my favourite cuts of lamb, it used to be one of the cheaper cuts too, alas not now, are lamb shanks, simple to cook well, and more versatile than you think.
Lamb shanks are best cooked, up to a couple days in advance and then slowly reheated, I have successfully slow cooked them with lots of coriander, cumin and garlic then reheated them the next day smothered in spiced yoghurt over the dying embers of a charcoal barbecue. The rich charred succulent meat was mouth-watering, tender and flavoursome. I have braised lamb shanks in red wine flavoured with liquorish and fennel for a rich, sweet, slightly anise flavoured sauce. Today’s recipe is perhaps the most satisfying, a one-pot casserole with lots of red wine and vegetables, ideal after a good long walk on the cliff tops in Jersey.
There is a substantial amount of meat on a large shank enough for the largest of appetites and I would say ample for two average dinners with the addition of a selection of vegetables. While the price of all lamb has risen quite substantially there can still be bargains to be had in the freezer section of your local supermarket and frozen lamb shanks are a great product to use as you are really going to drive flavour into the meat with your intensely flavoured cooking liquor and slow-cooking.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Vegetables serves 4 large appetites
For the shanks
4 Lamb Shanks
1 medium Onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 Garlic cloves, peeled and crushed in a little salt
A bottle of good quality Red Wine like a Cabernet or Merlot
A pint of homemade Beef or Veal stock
4 tablespoons of good Olive Oil
2 tablespoons of Plain Flour
1 tablespoon of Tomato Purée
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
For the Bouquet garni
2 large sticks of Celery, washed and cut in half
A generous sprig of fresh Rosemary
A few sprigs of Thyme
A small handful of Parsley
3 fresh Bay leaves
For the Vegetables
12 smallish Waxy Potatoes, washed and peeled
6 medium Carrots, washed and peeled and cut into chunks
12 small Shallots, peeled
12 Baby Button or small Chestnut Mushrooms, wiped with damp kitchen towel
8 Baby Turnips, washed and trimmed
Pre-heat your oven to 200 C / fan 380 F / Gas Mark 6. Heat the olive oil in a large, solid bottomed frying pan, a big cast iron one with a thick base is ideal and add the lamb shanks. Over a medium heat brown the shanks for around ten minutes, turning regularly with a pair of tongues, for an even colour. Searing the meat will give the shanks a lovely appealing colour at the end of the finished dish. Remove the lamb shanks and add the onion. Cook for around ten minutes, until the onions are soft and starting to caramelise, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Turn down the heat a little as we do not want the next ingredients to stick to the pan and burn. Stir in the flour and tomato purée, cook for two or three more minutes stirring all the time, to cook out the flour mix then add the wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a large wooden spoon to release any sticky meat pieces and mix until the wine is combined with the flour and tomato paste.
Place the lamb shanks into a deep sided casserole and season very well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with the wine mixture and the stock and add your bouquet garni. To make your bouquet garni fill the two sides of the celery stalk with the herbs push together and tie up with butcher’s string. ( Ask your butcher for a few meters or better still if he will sell you a ball ). Leave a few extra inches of string to secure the bouquet garni to the casserole handle. Bring the dish to a simmer, cover with a lid or tightly with foil and place in the oven. Cook for one hour and in the meantime you can wash, peel and chop your vegetables. Using a pair of oven gloves carefully remove the shanks from the oven. Loosen and remove the foil, allowing the steam to safely escape. Sprinkle with the prepared vegetables and reseal with the foil. Replace in the oven and cook for another hour until the lamb is cooked and wonderfully tender. Carefully remove the dish from the oven and place on a heatproof surface.
Carefully pour out the cooking liquid into a medium-sized pan and bring up to a vigorous boil. Keep the lamb and vegetables covered with the foil, in a warm oven, alongside some large deep sided serving bowls. Reduce the cooking liquid by around a third until thick and glossy, straining off any excess fat with a small ladle. You can serve immediately in the deep sided bowls garnished with a sprig of rosemary and an extra jug of sauce, or if you want you can quickly cool and reheat the next day.
Allergens in this recipe are;