Here is a recipe of mine that I cook on a regular basis these days. I love lamb, but it is a wee bit pricey over here in the States compared to Britain, so to cook it here regularly, I go for the cheapest available cut – the shank. When I think of famous British lamb dishes, it is one that springs straight to mind, and yet, it is missed out of Jane Grigson’s English Food. (For those of you not in the know: I am trying to cook every recipe in the aforesaid tome – this link – and part of this blog’s job is to fill in the gaps.) At some point, I shall write a blog post about lamb and mutton in general with a list of British dishes – I will be aiming to add every recipe for those dishes too.
The shank is the bottom part of the rear legs of the sheep, and it is normally removed from the upper portion; the meat in the shank is much tougher than the rest of the leg and therefore needs to be cooked longer, if you wanted to roast an entirely whole leg, you would either end up with tough shank meat, or overcooked leg meat. So long, slow cooking is what you need for lamb shanks – if you look at one, you’ll see that there is a lot of connective tissue there, and it is this that takes time to break down. If you haven’t cooked this cut of meat before don’t be squeamish – this tough tissue becomes wonderfully soft and unctuous if you treat it right and it is very easy to cook. All you need is a little time…
When I was doing the research for this recipe, I expected to find many old recipes for this classic, and yet I couldn’t a single recipe for it from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries – many books mention the cut, but use it only for stock-making. However, they do suddenly appear around the time of the Great War. So perhaps rationing made this dish popular. If anyone has any information on this, I would be most grateful.
The recipe I give here is simple and straight-forward and can easily be played around with. Adding some tomatoes and warming spices as well as some dried fruit such as raisins or prunes would give it a Moroccan touch, or adding some chilies, cumin, coriander seed and leaf as well as some crispy-fried onions and yoghurt would make it an Indian-style feast. I am, for the purposes of the blog, going for the classic British style. What makes this recipe good is the inclusion of gently fried onions and a good health dash of Worcester sauce.
2 large, or 4 small lamb shanks
one roughly chopped onion
one roughtly chopped carrot
one roughly chopped celery stick
one leek, sliced, with trimming reserved
a spring each of rosemary and thyme
a bay leaf
a glass of red wine (optional)
a tablespoon of sunflower oil
3 thinly-sliced cloves of garlic
one thinly-sliced onion
4 oz thinly-sliced mushrooms
one carrot, diced
one leek, sliced
salt and pepper
Place the shanks and the chopped onion, carrot, celery and leek trimmings in a roasting tin and roast for 25 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F). When nicely browned, place the lamb and vegetables in a large heavy-duty pan, along with the herbs and spices. Deglaze your roasting tin with the optional glass of wine, or simply use some water.
Pour the nice burnt bits along with the wine or water into the pan. Add water to almost cover, bring to a boil and simmer with a close lid for three hours.
When the meat is cooked, fish it out and put on a plate and strain the stock into a jug. Give the pan a quick wipe with a cloth and put it back on the heat along with the oil. When good and hot add the onions and garlic keep them moving in the pan and after three or four minutes, add the mushrooms. Fry for until the onions are tinged with brown. Now add the stock back to the pan along with the carrot and leek and bring to boil, and reduce the stock by around half its volume.
Place the shanks in the pan, turn down the heat and let them warm through again. Season with the Worcester sauce, salt and pepper.
For me, lamb shanks must be served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli, kale or cabbage.