Fall-apart meat wrapped around a bone? I'm all in.
Put a magnificent, towering cake piled high with fluffy icing next to a plate of lamb shanks with meltingly tender meat, and I'll go the shanks any day.
Yup, I'm one of those savoury-over-sweet people. I'm also an out and proud carnivore to my very core. If I throw a dinner party, there is zero chance that a whole roasted cauliflower will make an appearance as the main. Especially in winter.
The centrepiece will be meat. It will probably be some that's been slow-cooked.
And lamb shanks rate highly on my list of impressive-yet-low-effort food. It looks grand. It's on trend. Upscale bistros charge a pretty penny for it. It's just mouth-wateringly good (with the added bonus that it's dead easy and very forgiving).
Slow-cooked lamb shanks in red wine sauce
- 5 x 300-350g lamb shanks
- 1½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil, separated (plus more as required)
- 750ml merlot or cabernet sauvignon wine (yes, a whole bottle!)
- 800g can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 500ml (2 cups) low-sodium chicken stock (or veal stock)
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves
- creamy mashed potato, polenta or pureed cauliflower
- fresh thyme leaves or finely chopped parsley (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180C (conventional and fan-forced).
- Sprinkle lamb shanks all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat half the oil in a large, heavy-based pot over high heat. Add 3 lamb shanks and brown aggressively all over – this is key for flavour, so don't rush this step.
- Remove shanks. Add remaining tablespoon of oil, then brown remaining shanks. Set aside.
- Add remaining ingredients to the pot. Stir, then bring to simmer.
- Add lamb shanks, arranging them so the meat is submerged as best you can – it's fine if a bit is above the liquid line, they will shrink as they cook and you can rearrange them midway through.
- Cover with lid and transfer to oven for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, remove lid and check meat using 2 forks – it should be pretty tender. Bake uncovered for a further 30 minutes.
- Remove lamb shanks, cover and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, strain sauce into a bowl, pressing out liquid from the tomato and herbs. It should be a thin, syrupy consistency. If it's too watery, pour it back into the pot and simmer rapidly on medium-high stove to reduce – it won't take long.
- To serve, place individual lamb shanks on creamy mashed potato (or polenta or cauliflower puree), drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with thyme or parsley, if using.
Serves 5 as a main
- The wine – I have pretty strong views about red wine and cooking. I truly believe it's a waste to use expensive wines in slow-cooked foods, you just can't taste it in the end result. Using the right type of wine is much more important. A recipe like this needs a full-bodied wine such as merlot or cab sav. Go to your local bottle shop and rummage through their end of line bins. As a rule of thumb, I look for $15-$20 bottles discounted to $5-$7. Yes, really. If you come over for dinner, I'm going to serve you lamb shanks made with $5 wine – and it's going to taste like a million bucks!
- Lamb shank size – you can use large shanks totalling around 1.5kg, but they will take longer to cook. Just cook covered until the meat is tender, then uncover to reduce sauce.
- Cooking vessel – if you don't have a good heavy-based ovenproof pot, brown the shanks in a skillet or frypan then transfer to a baking dish. Be sure to pour wine into the skillet you used and bring to a simmer, scraping the base, to dissolve all the lamb flavour stuck on the surface. Then pour it into the baking dish, add everything else, cover with a lid and cook per recipe, adding another 20 minutes to the cook time (because heat retention isn't quite as good).
- Make ahead – As with most stews, the flavour of the sauce gets better with time. So if you really want to impress your family and friends, make this the day before. Strain the sauce, then return the sauce and shanks back into the pot. Cool with lid on then refrigerate overnight. The day of, reheat in a 180C oven for around 30 minutes until shanks are warmed through.