Tender Braised Lamb Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Anchovies act as a flavor booster without adding any fishiness to the final dish.
  • A mixture of spices adds complexity and depth to an otherwise light braise.
  • A long, slow cook at a low oven temperature melts the meat without drying it out.

As a half-Jew, half-Protestant, I might claim to be uniquely qualified to offer a spring lamb recipe—after all, it's a significant meat for both Easter and Passover. But who am I kidding? I'm as secular as they come. Being a good cook will have to suffice as my authority here.

Choosing the Lamb Cut

In deciding which cut of lamb to focus on, I thought about spring itself and what a transformative season it is, as the sun gives off a warmth it hasn't for months and the skeletal frames of trees flush with pink flowers and gray-green buds. It seemed like a similarly transformative cut was in order. Instead of popular lamb choices, like tender leg and chops, I settled on shanks. They start out tough as rubber, but, with the right approach, practically melt off the bone.

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Shanks come from the lower portion of the lamb's legs and can be subdivided into two categories: foreshanks (from the front legs) and hind shanks (from the...wait for it...hindlegs). Hind shanks tend to be meatier than foreshanks, but a single shank of either type is large enough to feed a person.

Those legs do a lot of work for the animal, which means that the shank meat is loaded with strong, collagen-rich connective tissue—a medium-rare lamb shank would be nearly impossible to chew. But with a long, slow braise, that collagen softens into unctuous, tender, lip-sticking gelatin. As in the stories of the Jews being freed from slavery in Egypt and Jesus transitioning from earthly to heavenly form, properly cooked lamb shanks undergo a divine metamorphosis.

Braising Process

The process for making them hews closely to the one we use forthe tough cuts in other braises and stews. I start by searing the shanks in oil until they're browned to develop and deepen their flavor. In this recipe, I rub them first with a spice mixture made from ground coriander, fennel, cumin, and smoked paprika, along with salt and pepper, of course; those spices add layers of flavor and complexity to the braise. Bone-in shanks can be awkwardly long and large, so you'll likely need to brown them in batches.

Once they're browned, I transfer the shanks to a baking sheet, then add a classic mirepoix of diced carrot, onion, and celery, plus some garlic, to the pot and cook it all until it's starting to brown all over. Toward the end, I stir in some tomato paste and anchovy fillets for richness. You won't taste any of the fishiness of the anchovies in the final dish; instead, you'll get a deeply savory flavor in each bite.

To stop the browning of the aromatics and scrape up all the dark bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot (called thefondin cooking-ese), I hit the pot with some dry white wine, then return the shanks to the pot along with some chicken stock. This is a braise, but I'm going for the lighter flavor of white wine and chicken stock so that the dish reflects the season better—deep, dark braises are on hold until next winter.

In a lot of our recipes on Serious Eats, we add unflavored gelatin to store-bought chicken stock as a way of introducing the gelatin that a good homemade stock always has. It helps improve a sauce's body and texture by increasing its viscosity. Here, I didn't need to bother, since the lamb shanks will contribute plenty of gelatin to the broth as they cook. If your stock is homemade and gelatin-rich (you'll know, because it'll gel when chilled), that's great, but if not, no need to worry.

At this point, the braise is ready to go into the oven. I take a similar approach to what we do for our beef stews, cooking it in a low oven set to 300°F (150°C). Higher heat will cook the meat and melt the collagen faster, but it'll also dry the muscle fibers out more. A gentler temperature delivers juicier meat.

I wanted some evaporation during the braise, so that the juices reduced and thickened, but I didn't want it to cook down too quickly. At the same time, I wanted the portion of the shanks above the liquid to brown and develop a deep, flavorful crust. The best way to get both is to partly cover the pot. You can do that by cracking the lid, but I'm also very partial to the parchment paper–lid technique. Simply cut a piece of parchment in a round just big enough to fit inside the pot, give it a center vent, and place it on top. It allows for just the right amount of evaporation and browning.

It's also important to turn the shanks once during the braise, so that the parts exposed to the hot oven air don't over-brown and dry out. Turning the meat also gives the submerged portions some time to peek out and develop their own share of good, browned flavor.

As soon as the lamb is tender, it's done. It's hard to be precise on time, since each cut and oven is different, but somewhere around three hours at this low temperature is about what it'll take.

Making the Sauce

To finish the dish, I pull the shanks from the braising liquid, then transfer the liquid and all the aromatics in the pot to a blender, blending it all into a smooth sauce—that vegetable fiber is an excellent thickener. If you havea high-powered blender, it'll do amazing work forming a smooth sauce all on its own. If you don't, you may want to pass the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer afterward to remove any grittier bits of fiber that are left behind.

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Depending on how much liquid has evaporated during the braising, you may need to thin the sauce slightly with water or stock to adjust its consistency. Less likely, but also possible, is that it'll be too thin, in which case you'll have to reduce it in a saucepan.

I baste the shanks in the sauce, then serve them with a light, bright herb and endive salad, a promise of the sunny days ahead. (Although, perhaps better than the promise of springtime is the more immediate promise of all that marrow in those bones.)

March 2016

Recipe Details

Tender Braised Lamb Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad Recipe

Prep10 mins

Cook3 hrs 35 mins

Active60 mins

Total3 hrs 45 mins

Serves4to 6 servings


For the Braised Lamb:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5g) ground coriander seeds

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5g) groundfennel seeds

  • 3/4 teaspoon (3g) ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g)smoked paprika

  • 4 bone-in lamb shanks (about 6 pounds; 2.75kg)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 tablespoons (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more if needed

  • 3 medium carrots (12 ounces; 250g), cut into large dice

  • 2 large stalks celery (5 ounces; 150g), cut into large dice

  • 1 medium yellow onion (9 ounces; 250g), cut into large dice

  • 4 medium cloves garlic, crushed

  • 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml)tomato paste

  • 1 cup (230ml) drywhite wine

  • 4 cups (950ml)homemadeor store-bought chicken stock

  • 1 sprig rosemary

  • 1 bay leaf

For the Herb Salad:

  • 1 large stalk celery (about 75g), sliced thinly on the bias

  • 2 small heads (about 150g each) red and/or white endive, cored and very thinly sliced crosswise

  • 3 cups loosely packed herb leaves (3 ounces; 85g), such as cilantro, parsley, mint, and basil

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml)fresh juice from 1 lemon

  • 3 tablespoons (45ml)extra-virgin olive oil

  • Kosher salt


  1. For the Braised Lamb: Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). In a small bowl, stir together coriander seed, fennel seeds, cumin, and smoked paprika until thoroughly combined. Season lamb shanks all over with salt and pepper, then rub spice mixture all over meat.

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  2. Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil in a large Dutch oven or roasting pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add shanks, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, and brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent spices from scorching; add more oil if needed. Transfer browned shanks to a rimmed baking sheet.

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  3. Add remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil to Dutch oven or roasting pan, along with carrots, celery, onion, and garlic, and cook over medium-high heat until vegetables are softened and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Add anchovies and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add wine, scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan, bring to a simmer, and cook until raw alcohol smell has mostly cooked off, about 2 minutes. Arrange shanks in Dutch oven, nestling them among the vegetables; add any accumulated juices from the baking sheet to the pot. Add stock, rosemary, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

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  4. Meanwhile, cut a piece of parchment paper just slightly smaller than the opening of the Dutch oven or roasting pan, with a hole in the center, and set it directly on top of the shanks and braising liquid. (This parchment paper lid will allow a limited amount of evaporation.) To do this, fold a large square of parchment paper in half twice. Fold the resulting square into a triangle, keeping the center of the original square at one of the acute tips of the triangle. Fold into a narrower triangle, keeping the original center of the square at the acute tip. Fold into a narrower triangle one more time. Hold the tip of the triangle over the center of the Dutch oven and trim off the back edge where it meets the edge of the pot with a pair of scissors. Cut off the tip of the triangle. Unfold the parchment, and it should fit perfectly inside the Dutch oven. Alternatively, cover the pot with a lid, leaving it partially cracked.

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  5. Transfer pot to oven and cook, turning shanks halfway through cooking, until shanks are very tender, about 3 hours. Discard rosemary and bay leaf.

  6. Transfer shanks to a clean rimmed baking sheet. Working in batches to prevent overfilling blender, ladle braising liquid and vegetables into a blender jar. Remove center cap of blender lid, then place lid on blender jar. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and turn blender on, starting at its lowest speed and gradually increasing to high. Blend until very smooth; for an extra-smooth texture, pass blended braising sauce through a fine-mesh strainer. Repeat with remaining braising mixture.

  7. Transfer braising sauce to a clean saucepan and season with salt and pepper. If too thick, adjust texture by thinning with water or stock; if too thin, simmer until thickened and reduced sufficiently. Baste shanks with sauce, coating them.

  8. For the Herb Salad: Just before serving, make salad by combining sliced endive, celery, and herbs in a large mixing bowl. Add lemon juice and oil and toss well. Season with salt.

  9. Transfer warm shanks to a serving platter or plates, spooning their sauce all over. Arrange salad on top and serve right away.

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Special Equipment

Large Dutch oven or roasting pan, rimmed baking sheets, parchment paper, blender, fine-mesh strainer (optional)

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Tender Braised Lamb Shanks With Bitter Herb Salad Recipe (2024)
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