An ideal meal for cooking during winter, as the long cook time in the oven or slow cooker helps warm the kitchen, and the hearty lamb will warm you up too!
A classic way to prepare shanks, these are slow cooked in a deeply flavoured red wine sauce until they are jestingly tender. You can’t taste the red wine at the end, it completely transforms into a rich sauce. Make this in the oven, on your stove or even in a slow cooker – instructions provided for all!
- 4 lamb shanks , around 13 oz / 400g each (Note 1)
- 1 tsp EACH cooking/kosher salt and pepper
- 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil , separated
- 1 onion , finely diced (brown, yellow or white)
- 3 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 cup carrot , peeled, finely diced (Note 2)
- 1 cup celery , finely diced (Note 2)
- 2 ½ cups red wine (full-bodied good value wine, not expensive! Note 3)
- 800 g / 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken stock , low sodium (or water)
- 5 sprigs of thyme (preferably tied together), or 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves (or 4 fresh)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (all oven types – fan and standard).
- Season shanks – Pat the lamb shanks dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Brown – Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy based pot 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.
- Sauté aromatics – Turn the heat down to medium low. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the same pot. Add the onion and garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Add carrot and celery. Cook for 5 minutes until onion is translucent and sweet.
- Braising liquid – Add the red wine, chicken stock, crushed tomato, tomato paste, thyme and bay leaves. Stir to combine.
- Add shanks – Place the lamb shanks into the pot, squeezing them in to fit so they are mostly submerged. (Note 1)
- Oven 2 hours covered – Turn stove up, bring liquid to a simmer. Cover, then transfer to the oven for 2 hours (see notes for other cook methods).
- Uncovered 30 minutes – Remove lid, then return to the oven for another 30 minutes (so 2 1/2 hours in total). Check to ensure lamb meat is ultra tender – if not, cover and keep cooking. Ideal is tender meat but still just holding onto bone.
- Remove lamb onto plate and keep warm. Pick out and discard bay leaves and thyme.
- Sauce – Strain the sauce into a bowl, pressing to extract all sauce out of the veggies (Note 5 for repurposing the veggies). Pour strained sauce back into pot. If needed, bring to a simmer over medium heat and reduce slightly to a syrupy consistency (see video) – I rarely need to. Taste then add salt and pepper to taste (Note 5 on sauce taste).
- Serve the lamb shanks on mashed potato or cauliflower purée with plenty of sauce! Garnish with thyme leaves if desired.
1. Lamb Shanks – sizes vary considerably so make sure you get ones that will fit in your cooking vessel! 4 x 400g/13oz lamb shanks fits snugly in a 26cm/11″ diameter Chasseur dutch oven which is what I use. They don’t need to be completely submerged, just as long as most of the meaty end is mostly submerged, that’s fine. If you don’t have a pot large enough, you can switch to a baking dish for the slow cooking part, and cover with a double layer of foil if you don’t have a lid for it. You can also ask your butcher to cut the shaft so it bends if you are concerned, or to trim it slightly.
Cook time – 350-400g shanks should cook to “fall apart tender” but still holding onto bone in 2.5 hrs at 180°C/350°F. It can take up to 3 hrs, so to err on the side of caution re: dinner timing, give yourself 3 hours oven time. Shanks are the sort of thing that can sit around for ages and stay warm (keep covered in pot) and the flavour just gets even better. In fact, if you are cooking to impress, cook it the day before then reheat to serve – flavour will develop overnight, like with any stew!
2. Onion, carrot and celery is the “holy trinity” of slow cooking, creating a beautiful flavour base for the sauce. It’s not a deal breaker to exclude the carrot and celery, but it does give the sauce an extra edge.
3. Wine – Use a good value full bodied red wine, like cabaret sauvignon or merlot. Shiraz is ok too. No need to use expensive wine for slow cooked recipes like this (and the New York Times agrees). Use discount end of bin specials (I get mine from Dan Murphey’s). Pinots not suitable, too light. 99% of the alcohol in the red wine evaporates during cooking. The sauce does not taste winey at all, it completely transforms.
Non alcoholic sub: 1 1/2 cups beef broth LOW SODIUM, 1 cup water. + 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce. Beef has a stronger deeper flavour than chicken so will be more suited to being the sub for wine.
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. The sauce does not taste like wine at all, it completely transforms.
5. Sauce options: The other option is to blitz the sauce using a sick blender. The sauce will be thicker, and you’ll have more of it (leftovers great tossed through pasta). This is what I used to do, but nowadays, I prefer to strain the sauce because I like how glossy and rich it is – this is how restaurants serve it. You could also skip straining or blitzing, it just means you get little veg lumps in the sauce. All are tasty options, it mainly comes down to visual.
TIP: If you strain the sauce, keep the veggies etc in the strainer to make a terrific sauce, they are loaded with flavour even though all juice is squeezed out of them. What I do is make a basic tomato sauce with garlic, onion, canned tomato and water. Then I blitz that with the veggies. Use it to make a killer pasta or lasagna!!
Sour sauce? Sounds like there might’ve been issues with your canned tomatoes (poor quality = overly sour, good quality = sweet). Add a touch of honey or sugar, simmer for a few minutes. Also, you didn’t rush the carrots/celery sautéing step, did you?? Cooking them for 5 minutes sweetens them! 🙂
6. OTHER COOK OPTIONS:
Slow cooker – Follow recipe to step 7. Bring sauce to simmer, scrape bottom of pot to get all brown bits into the liquid. Place shanks in slow cooker, add the sauce. Cook on low for 8 hours. Remove shanks, strain and reduce sauce to desired thickness on stove (if you blitz per Note 5, you won’t need to reduce).
Pressure Cooker – Follow Slow Cooker steps, cook for 40 minutes on high. Release pressure according to manufacturer directions. Stove – 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) and the bottom of the pot isn’t catching. Turn the lamb shanks twice. You won’t get the brown crust, but the flavour is the same!
7. Original recipe vs cookbook version – The original lamb shanks recipe is from 2015 which was improved in 2018. There is also a very elegant red wine lamb shanks recipe in my cookbook which is an elegant fine-dining version.
Nutrition per serving. This is conservative – it doesn’t take into account fat trimmed from shanks or discarded fat. Also assumes all sauce is consumed, which it probably won’t be.