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Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta

Braised Lamb Shanks With Polenta

 OK, so this may not be the most photogenic of meals, but it is among the most delicious. Step outside your comfort zone, you non-lamb lovers, because after this meat braises for a few hours and melds with herbs and other ingredients, you’re left with an earthy, flavorful meat that just falls off the bone and practically melts in your mouth.

Most of the “gamey” flavor associated with lamb is from the fat, which is why I trim off any possible fat from legs or racks of lambs I buy. But these shanks, the last pieces left from last year’s purchase of half a lamb from a friend who raises them, were nearly devoid of fat. The white part you see below is more sinew than fat, which breaks down in the braising process. Each of these shanks held enough meat to serve two people comfortably.
Start out by browning the shanks in a Dutch over over medium high heat, with a little olive oil to coat the bottom.
Add some onion, celery, garlic, and carrots to the pan, as well as wine, chicken broth, tomatoes and herbs – in this case thyme and rosemary from my garden and bay leaves from my potted plant. Most supermarkets these days sell a plethora of fresh herbs, but use dried if you live in the hinterlands and can’t find fresh.
You could simmer this on top of the range, but if you place it in the oven at moderate temperature, you can just forget about it for two or three hours. No stirring necessary.
Open the lid to a divine aroma (and a messy pan, I grant you, but it cleans easily enough if soaked for a while). Carefully remove the lamb to a warm platter, and throw out the herb bouquet and bay leaf. Use a stick blender to make a sauce of the remaining ingredients (or pop into a standing blender and mix).
Serve the lamb shanks with creamy polenta (as above – recipe here for a “no-stir” polenta recipe or here for slow-cooker polenta from Michele Scicolone). If polenta’s not your thing (WHAT?!!), serve with mashed potatoes, noodles or rice, pouring the sauce over all.
Braised Lamb Shanks
2 lamb shanks (about 3/4 pound each)
olive oil, to coat bottom of pan
1 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 large carrots, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 or 4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 T. tomato paste
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
salt, pepper
In a heavy casserole or Dutch oven, sauté the lamb shanks in a little olive oil until browned. Remove the shanks and add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pan, sautéing until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.
Place the lamb shanks back into the Dutch oven and add the rest of the ingredients. Place a lid on the top and cook in a 350 degree oven, checking after two hours. It may need another 1/2 hour to one hour until the meat is fork tender.
Remove the meat from the pan, keeping warm on a heated platter. Remove the herbs and with a stick blender, puree the sauce. Serve the sauce over the lamb shanks, with roasted mushrooms and polenta, if desired.
This Post Has 12 Comments
  1. I love this dish for the winter….I always add orange strips and olives……'s one of Henry's favorite on polenta!
    I was waiting for you to post this, and I love the photos!

  2. We love lamb and have it for special occasions — I don't know why we couldn't make any day a special occasions. We usually purchase the leg — I would love to get some shanks and make this. And over polenta? Perfect. I am pinning and sharing. Thank you Linda !!

  3. Classic,and so delicious. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that pictures don't tell the whole story (and gorgeous photos don't necessarily mean a great recipe). This stew is perfect winter comfort food. The only thing that would make it better would be enjoying it in the mountains of Abruzzo. Cheers, D.

  4. I often find myself disappointed with the photos of a cooked meat dish, they never seem to capture the essence of what is on the plate. Your shanks look succulent over that bed of polenta. The step by step preparation photos are terrific, great seasonal post.

  5. We actually love lamb shanks – and they are hard to find. This is a dreamy winter dish filled with comfort (and totally in comfort zone). I love lazy Sundays where you braise something all day.

  6. I love lamb shanks, but I do have one "beef", if you'll pardon the expression: Why have they become so damn expensive? Used to be a delicious but economical cut….

  7. My husband says he doesn't like lamb. I beg to differ. Lamb shanks are so good, that he eats them and doesn't complain. Topped with polenta, this is one of my favorite meals. I'm working on adapting this to a pressure cooker, for those nights when I'm too impatient to wait for it to slowly braise. The photo is inviting, and now I am all set to make this.

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