Lamb shanks are a dream to cook with. Not only are they cheap, but they are incredibly flavoursome. Like most of the cheaper cuts of meat from an animal, they do tend to be the tastiest. And shanks are no exception. As long as you can wait a few hours for them to cook, you will be awarded with supreme gelatinous succulent meat that falls from the bone in large slabs.
I mentioned in a previous post about the therapeutic qualities of warm comforting food. Lamb shanks are in that category, and at this time of the year it is a cut of meat I turn to quite regularly. It needs nothing more than a quick browning then a long slow braise is an aromatic sauce. So as well as being tasty and economical, they are a breeze to cook.
Rather than turn to the ubiquitous red wine braise, I prefer a more fresh and earthy sauce to go with lamb. A good English dry cider is an amazing accompaniment, the sharp fruit of the apple cutting nicely through the deep rich meat. An addition of brown or green lentils thickens and adds texture to the sauce, and a little zest and juice of lemon is a surprising back-note without being overpowering. 2-3 hours in the oven, the house will be filled with amazing smells, the kind of smells that make you instantly ravenous. Serve it with a simple mash and some good buttery Savoy cabbage, it needs nothing more. No fuss food of the highest order - that will do for me.
Lamb Shanks Braised in Dry Cider and Brown Lentils
2 lamb shanks
1 carrot, chopped into small dice
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped into small dice
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato purée
500ml good dry cider
500ml hot lamb or vegetable stock
4 rashers of streaky bacon
100g brown lentils
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM2, 150 degrees C.
2 - In a large non-stick frying pan, heat up the olive oil. Season the lamb shanks and quickly brown all over. Remove and place into a deep ceramic Pyrex dish.
3 - Add the carrots, onion, celery and bacon to the pan and cook for 5 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, thyme and tomato purée and cook for a further minute. Remove and add to the Pyrex dish along with the bay leaves.
4 - Pour the cider into the frying pan and bring to the boil, scraping off anything that may be stuck to the pan. Add to the Pyrex dish.
5 - Finally, add the hot stock to the shanks until just below the meat, along with the zest and juice of half of the lemon and good grinding of black pepper.
6 - Place into the oven and cook for 1 and a half hours. Stir in the lentils then put back into the oven for 1-1 and a half hours, until the lentils are soft and the meat comes away from the bone when pushed.
7 - Taste for seasoning. You may want to thicken the sauce. To do this, remove the shanks and keep in a warm oven and reduce the sauce in a pan on the hob. Serve with mashed potato and buttery cabbage.