Braised Lamb Shanks Provençal
Braising meaty lamb shanks in a piquant mix of sour lemons, black olives, and fresh tomatoes offsets their rich, gamy flavor. If you make this in early autumn when the first nips of cold air wake up your appetite for slow-cooked meats, look for the last of the local ripe plum tomatoes in the market. If good fresh tomatoes are unavailable, use canned. The dish will be every bit as satisfying. Serve with soft polenta or buttery mashed potatoes.
Author: Molly Stevens
- 6 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
- All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1 cup)
- 1 tablespoon plus ½teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions (about 1 pound total), chopped into ½-inch pieces
- 1 pound plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or one 14½-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved)
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
- 1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
- 2 lemons
- 3 small or 2 large bay leaves
- ½cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives, such as Nyons or Moroccan
- ¼cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Trimming the lamb shanks: If the shanks are covered in a tough parchment-like outer layer (called the fell), trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peeling back this layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t fuss with trying to peel off any of the thin membrane—this holds the shank together and will melt down during braising.
- Dredging the lamb shanks: Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. Roll half the shanks in the flour, lifting them out one by one and patting to remove any excess, and set them on a large plate or tray, without touching.
- Browning the lamb shanks: Heat the oil in a large heavy-based braising pot (6- to 7- quart) over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the 3 flour-dredged shanks (you’re searing in two batches so as not to crowd the pot). Cook, turning the shanks with tongs, until they are gently browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the shanks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding. Dredge the remaining shanks in flour, patting to remove any excess, and brown them. Set beside the already browned shanks, and discard the remaining flour.
- The aromatics and braising liquid: Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. If the bottom of the pot is at all blackened, wipe it out with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any tasty caramelized drippings. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic and season with the remaining ½ teaspoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly tender. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom of the pot that will contribute flavor to the liquid. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, zest the lemon: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half of 1 lemon, being careful to remove only the outermost yellow zest, not the bitter-tasting white pith; reserve the lemon. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaves.
- The braise: Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables. The shanks should fit fairly snugly in the pot, but you may need to arrange them “head-to-toe” so they fit more evenly. Don’t worry if they are stacked in two layers. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the lamb and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the side of the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2½hours. Check the shanks every 35 to 45 minutes, turning them with tongs and moving those on top to the bottom and vice versa, and making sure that there is still plenty of braising liquid. If the liquid seems to be simmering too aggressively at any point, lower the oven heat by 10 to 15 degrees. If the liquid threatens to dry out, add ⅓cup water. The shanks are done when the meat is entirely tender and they slide off a meat fork when you try to spear them.
- Segmenting the lemon: While the shanks braise, use a thin-bladed knife (a boning knife works well) to carve the entire peel from the 2 lemons. The easiest way to do this is to first cut off the stem and blossom end of each one so the lemon is flat on the top and bottom. Then stand the lemon up and carve off the peel and white pith beneath it with arcing slices to expose the fruit. Trim away any bits of pith or membrane that you’ve left behind, until you have a whole naked lemon. Now, working over a small bowl to collect the juices, hold a lemon in one hand and cut out the individual segments, leaving as much of the membrane behind as you can. Drop the segments into the bowl, and pick out the seeds as you go. When you finish, you should be holding a random star-shaped membrane with very little fruit pulp attached. Give this a squeeze into the bowl and discard. Repeat with the second lemon.
- The finish: Transfer the shanks to a tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Using a wide spoon, skim as much surface fat from the cooking liquid as possible. Lamb shanks tend to throw off quite a bit of fat: continue skimming (tilting the pot to gather all the liquid in one corner makes it easier) until you are satisfied. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lemon segments, olives, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the shanks to the braising liquid to reheat for a minute or two. Serve with plenty of sauce spooned over each shank.