Winter might be coming, but autumn is here. I can’t say I’m a fan of the sun setting before I’m home from work each day but I do dig into fall food and drink with gusto. During this dimmer, cozier time of year, Sundays are sacred for two things: Seahawks and slow-cooking.
A method that requires patience and commitment, slow-cooking meats at low temperatures allows the meat to tenderize and for extra flavor to be expressed over a longer period of time — much of which you have very little to do with. Braising also allows the meat to meld with whatever additional flavors it is cooking in, like red wine, a textbook cooking liquid for lamb.
In this classic recipe, I grabbed a $12 bottle of a Bordeaux-style red blend from Washington and dumped it on top of seared lamb shanks and braised them for three hours in the oven. In between the fourth quarter and episodes “Stranger Things,” I’d check in with the meat to find it was doing just fine on its own.
I also thick-sliced up a couple parsnips, covered and simmered them milk and cream, then pureed the whole thing (plus butter) into the side for the lamb. Throw in some pan-seared green beans and you’ve got a complete meal, approved for hallowed low-key Sundays.
Red Wine Braised Lamb Shanks
4 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, separated
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
4 large celery stalks, diced
5 large crimini mushrooms, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
1 sachet thyme and oregano, 6-7 sprigs each and tied together
3 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 325° F. With a paper towel, pat the lamb shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear the shanks on all sides, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Do not overcrowd the pot, you can do this in batches and set the finished shanks on a plate. Place the shanks on a plate when finished and dump whatever is left in the pan.
On medium-low heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same Dutch oven then add the carrot, celery, mushrooms and onion, cooking until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic in for the final 3 minutes.
Pour in the bottle of red wine and bring the heat up to medium-high. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the wine has cooked down to at least half its original amount, stirring to scrape up any browned pieces from the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and herbs, then stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and place the shanks into the pot. Depending on the size of your Dutch oven, you might be able to fully submerge the shanks but aim to have at least 75 percent of each covered by the liquid. Bring the heat back up to medium-high to a simmer, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven for 1-½ hours.
Turn the shanks, cover and return the pot to the oven for the final 1-½ hours, when the meat should be falling off the bone and very tender.
Move the lamb to a clean plate and remove the herbs from the sauce. Use a hand blender to puree the sauce to your liking (I went pretty smooth), then season also to your preference.
Serve with pureed parsnips and plenty of sauce.