So. This all started in a headspace far, far away from Easter; ever since I first read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (now one of my top 3 books) and discovered the awesomeness of Charles Lamb (and his fondness for wine) I’ve been wanting to concoct something involving lamb and wine, as a little Ode to the great man. Finally, the magical day arrived, the day when I had all the necessary elements to create a fitting feast of Lamb & Wine. I had four neatly turned lamb shanks, a bottle of truly fantastic red wine, plus all the various bits and bobs ready to become the perfect accompaniments.
Now I’ve cooked lamb shanks previously but not for many many moons, and when at last (because it takes a bit of time) I launched the meal forth in all its glory… I realised that, actually, I’m not a huge fan of lamb shanks anymore. It was a bit of a “meh” moment for me. A “meh-e-e-e-eh” moment (that was a sheep noise, so it’s funny, so you have to laugh). It broke my gluttonous heart. I guess because lamb shanks is just one of those permanently popular dishes in South Africa I lost sight of the fact that it’s not a personal favourite (rack of lamb though … now we’re talking).
I didn’t feel comfortable putting poor old Charles Lamb’s name on it; it was beautifully rich and tender and tasty but lamb ankles (or whatever part they are) just aren’t my thing really. So I devised a method to convert the leftovers – and it turned out to be far more to my taste (possibly because carbs were involved? Oops). And so I give you – the LambShanks Redemption.
It’s like the ultimate man food. If cavemen had had petrol stations, these would have been the dodgy pies sold there at 4am after they’d been clubbing (Har har. Geddit? Clubbing). With the double cooking, the lamb is falling to pieces and rich and winey and (wait for it – big word) unctuous.
This is kind of a twofer recipe; possibly even a five-fer, if you include the sides:
4 shapely lamb shanks
Most of a 750ml bottle of a really good, rich, deep dark red wine.
Several chopped garlic cloves
A couple of onions
500ml stock – I used beef, to give some meaty oomph
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
2 or so sprigs of fresh rosemary – tie them together with a bit of string for ease of fishing out later
2 handfuls of those tiny baby onions usually used for pickling – about 15 I’d guess. Peeled. I know it’s a schlep. Have a glass of wine.
About 100g puff pastry per leftover lamb shank (this is not strictly necessary, unless you are planning to feed it to me). Or possibly a few sheets of phyllo. I found what could have been spring-roll pastry mooching around the back of the freezer and used that.
Because I did not entirely plan ahead (oops) I skipped over the first step completely, hence having to cook this down for most of the day and also hence the photos may not quite match the method. Consider it a lesson in how not to have the bright idea of cooking lamb shanks on the same day you wish to serve them.
- This is totally easy. First, check the quality of the red wine. Quality control is key to a delicious end product. If you decide that it’s good enough, pour it over the shanks in a suitable container then allow them to steep overnight covered in the fridge. They should be properly intoxicated before you start cooking them. Remove the shanks from the fridge about an hour before cooking; remove them from the wine carefully and pat them dry-ish (don’t throw the wine out!).
- Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a vast heavy-based cauldron and brown the shanks over high heat on as many sides as you can balance them on; remove them from the pot and put them aside to rest, covered. In the remaining greasiness in the pot, fry the peeled baby onionlets until nicely browned on the outside. Park them in a dish for later. Then, fry the chopped regular-sized onions until translucent.
- Add the garlic and fry for one more minute before throwing in the tomatoes, the lamb shanks, the rosemary, the reserved wine and half of the stock. Turn the heat down to low, put the lid on, open another bottle of wine and let the shanks simmer for at least 3 hours – check on it between glasses of wine, if it’s getting a bit thick add some stock. Fling the baby onions in after about 2 hours. It should become thick and rich and savoury and make your kitchen smell like an alcoholics dream; if you find that it’s too liquid simply leave the lid off for a bit and allow it to reduce.
- Towards the end of the process (and you will see the shank bone being more and more exposed as the meat cooks and kinda shrivels up) start on the sides:
Side 1: Steamed broccoli. Or other green vegetable. I had no choice but broccoli, because I needed cauliflower and the shop only had mixed bags available. Carefully separating the two was not fun.
Side 2: Honey-glazed baby carrots. Yummo.
Side 3: The best side dish in the whole world ever – cauliflower puree with lots of blue cheese. Better than mashed potatoes! Just steam up a bunch of cauliflower florets, then blitz them in a food processor with a knob of butter and lots and lots of creamy blue cheese.
- Now for the Redemption bit:
After you’ve realised that actually lamb ankles are a pretty darn gross concept and briefly consider going vegetarian, take the leftover shanks out of the fridge and park one in a small, greased ovenproof dish. It should just fit – top it up with a bit of gravy to level out the surface if necessary, with the bone poking upwards.
Then cut out a circle of pastry with a sharp knife, big enough to fit the top of the dish. Kind of roughly eyeball where to cut a hole for the shank bone to poke through then lower it over the meat and kind of tuck it in round the sides. If using phyllo don’t forget to paint each sheet with melted butter, and keep remaining sheets neatly covered with a clean damp tea towel, otherwise it will form like phyllo corrugated board.
Pop it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes, until the shank is bubbling and hot right through and the pastry is golden gorgeousness.
Be careful when serving – it’s kinder to warn diners that the dish is piping hot than to let them suffer 3rd degree burns to the paws and tongue. Isn’t it awesome? Serve with a cold beer and a remote control as the only side dishes.
So long, and shanks for all the lamb (sorry I can’t help myself!).