Braise lamb shanks and make two delicious meals in one: a unique free-form version of Shepherd’s Pie – and a tomato-rich Barley Risotto with Lamb.
For even better results, braise the lamb a day or two ahead – it tastes better and allows you to reduce the amount of fat in the dish. Having done that, don’t skimp on the butter and half-and-half for the potatoes – they are the perfect partner for the tomatoey lamb and spinach.
Braised Lamb Shanks, serves 4 with leftovers
Don’t be put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients – once assembled, it is relatively easy to put this dish together, place it in the oven and basically forget about it. You will need:
• Lamb shanks, 6 (I used frozen), thawed
• Olive oil
• Sweet Vidalia Onion, 1 large, peeled & chopped
• Garlic cloves, 3-4 large, peeled and sliced
• Baby carrots, a good handful
• Fresh Rosemary, 1-2 sprigs
• Vermouth or dry white wine, 1 ½ cups
• Beef broth, 1 ½ cups
• Crushed tomatoes, 1 (28oz) can
• Red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon
• Worcestershire Sauce, 2 tablespoons
• Brown sugar, 1 heaped tablespoon
Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
Season the lamb with sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat then brown three of the shanks well on all sides; set aside. Brown the remainder of the shanks well on all sides then set them aside.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, season well with salt and pepper then cook for about 5 minutes taking care not to burn. Add the sliced garlic and baby carrots and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring to prevent the vegetables from browning. Add the rosemary; if the sprigs you buy are large, use one, if smaller, use two.
Turn up the heat, add the vermouth and allow to boil for 2 minutes. (Just as an aside, I keep vermouth on hand and use it whenever a recipe calls for white wine; it keeps for months in the ‘fridge.)
Add the beef broth, crushed tomatoes (whole or diced tomatoes won’t work as well), red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar; stir to combine then bring to a boil.
Return the shanks to the pot, arranging them so the wider ends are fully submerged and the lid will fit. Place the pot in the pre-heated oven and braise for up to 3 hours or until the lamb is tender and the meat is just starting to come away from the bones.
Can be made-ahead: allow to cool, uncovered, then store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, covered. Skim off any fat that has collected before heating through.
About an hour before serving, half-fill a large pan with salted cold water and about 2lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into same-sized pieces. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain then put back into the same pan.
Add a big knob of salted butter (or several if you prefer!) and a generous splash of half-and-half (purists will warm the cream first) and roughly mash the potatoes – there shouldn’t be lump’s but it doesn’t need to be super smooth either. Cover and keep warm.
At the last moment, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat then add a container of pre-washed baby spinach; stir to coat with oil. It’s ready when it’s wilted slightly but still bright green, about 2 minutes.
Serve the meal by layering firstly a spoonful of the mashed potatoes then a spoonful of spinach and finally one lamb shank, pushing it into the vegetables to help it stand upright with the bone sticking up. Spoon over pan juices and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Reserve the sauce and remaining 2 shanks separately; allow to cool, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered, overnight.
Barley Risotto with Lamb in a Rich Tomato Sauce
This is probably the ultimate comfort food: incredibly smooth and rich tasting, easily good enough to serve to company but you may prefer to eat it all on your own! Best part is that there’s NO stirring and stirring until it’s done; it’s virtually foolproof. You will need:
• Pan juices & vegetables (from leftovers)
• Beef broth
• Lamb shanks, 2, (from leftovers)
• Pearl barley, 1 cup
Measure the amount of leftover juices and vegetables and add enough beef broth, if necessary, to make up 4 cups; pour into a large saucepan.
Take the meat off the shanks, discarding any excess fat; tear apart with your clean hands into chunks and add to the pot; stir to combine.
Turn the heat to high under the pot until the sauce starts to boil then add the pearl barley; stir to combine.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, enough to maintain a steady simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. All of the juices should be absorbed but the barley should still be slightly firm to the tooth, or al dente as the Italians say. (Keep a small pan of beef broth heated up on the stove and stir in a small amount if you think the risotto is too thick.)
Ladle the risotto into bowls and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary. Enjoy!