Braised lamb shanks are cuts of lamb that have been simmered on low heat for several hours in some kind of liquid. The shank itself is the lower half of a lamb’s leg, starting at the knee and ending at the ankle. This cut of meat can become tough and chewy very quickly, which is why braising is typically the ideal method for cooking it. Simmering the lamb shanks in a braising liquid ensures the meat not only soaks up flavor, but also becomes tender and succulent.
Most braised lamb shanks require up to two and a half hours of simmering time, which may intimidate cooks that like low-maintenance meals or those with busy schedules. Fortunately, this kind of cooking is usually fairly simple. The basic steps for making braised lamb shanks usually include searing the shanks in the bottom of a hot pan, then stirring together the braising liquid and spices and letting them warm for up to 10 minutes. Once the lamb shanks are seared and in the braising liquid, all the cook must do is pop the lidded pan in the oven. The shanks can generally simmer away in the oven until the last hour of cooking, when the cook must heat the shanks, uncovered, on top of the stove to reduce the liquids into a sauce.
Cooks have a wide array of choices when it comes to liquids for making braised lamb shanks. Red wine, beef and chicken stock, tomato sauce, and soy sauce may all play a part in braised lamb recipes. The liquid in the pan is what generally gives the lamb its flavor, so creating a tasty sauce mixture is essential. One may use just a simple blend that contains half red wine and half beef stock. Merlot and pinot noir both usually pair well with beef and lamb, making them tasty wine choices for braising lamb.
Slightly more complicated braising sauces may include a hefty splash or two of chicken stock. This generally makes the flavor lighter and helps cover any sharp flavors from the wine. Many braised lamb shank recipes also call for tomato sauce, tomato paste, or diced tomatoes. Tomatoes generally go well with wine and lamb, giving both a bright, fresh flavor. These acidic fruits also help tenderize the braised lamb shanks as they simmer.
Recipes often call for vegetables to be simmered along with the meat. The veggies then take on the flavors of the meat, the meat takes on the flavors of the veggies, and the cook is usually rewarded with a one-pot meal. Carrots, onions, and garlic are traditional, though one may include potatoes as well. Seasonings, such as rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves, usually go into the pot when the simmering starts. As the braised lamb shanks warm, all the flavors mix and marry together, creating a typically comforting and succulent dish.