Whenever I’m asked what I love cooking the most, my reply is always a slow braise. I enjoy it because it’s easy to feel like a magician when transforming a tough cut of meat into something buttery tender and falling off the bone — and all it takes is time.
I hope you’ll enjoy this hearty, rustic braised lamb dish as much as we did — one that’s perfect for a wintry night.
The shank is the toughest part of the lamb. It’s the upper part of the leg and is full of connective tissue. When cooked very slowly, that connective tissue melts away and yields a rich, luxurious fork-tender dish.
Lamb shanks look quite large before cooking; however, one per person is the correct serving size. Because they’re so large to start with, you may need to brown them in a large sauté pan before placing in the Dutch oven. (When browning a protein, you want to allow room around each piece so the protein browns instead of steams.) Then, when they’re ready for the oven, use the smallest pot they will fit into (typically a 5-quart Dutch oven) so the braising liquid covers as much of the shank as possible.
The combination of dry red wine and the sweet port wine adds complexity to the sauce. Port is a fortified wine that originated in Portugal and is mostly enjoyed with dessert. Fortified simply means it’s higher in alcohol than regular table wine.
Cooking the shanks uncovered for the last 30 minutes will give them a rich brown color. The sauce will reduce and thicken, helped along by the addition of the beurre manie — the flour and butter mixture.
A gremolata is a chopped herb condiment that adds a fresh, vibrant touch to braised meats. Traditionally made with lemon zest, I changed it up and used orange zest instead. When grating citrus fruit, remember to grate only the outermost peel; the underlying white pith is bitter and undesirable.
Braised meat dishes hold up well to being made ahead, cooled and reheated. Serve this dish with something starchy such as mashed potatoes, polenta, rice or egg noodles. To reduce carbohydrates, serve with a vegetable purée of rutabaga, celery root or cauliflower instead.
Port and Red Wine-Braised Lamb Shanks with Orange Gremolata
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lamb shanks, (preferably domestic) trimmed of excess fat
— salt and black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup ruby port
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
— zest of 1 large orange
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 small clove garlic, minced
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks well on all sides with salt and pepper and brown well on all sides. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add onion to the drippings and cook briefly just to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add red wine and ruby port, bring to a boil and cook 1 minute. Return lamb shanks to the Dutch oven with the meaty part facing downward. Add broth, tomato paste, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Place aluminum foil or parchment paper over the top first to seal securely, then place lid on.
3. Transfer to the oven and cook 2½ hours. Carefully turn the shanks over so the meaty side is up.
4. Combine flour and butter. Stir into braising liquid. Place back in oven uncovered and cook 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves.
5. Combine orange zest, parsley and garlic. Serve sprinkled over lamb shanks.