The shank, or shin, is usually some of the toughest meat on a critter. Think about it – this is the part between the knee and the foot that does a great deal of the work of holding the animal up and moving it around. Lean muscle, as it were. This means that there is lots of connective tissue (collagen), which means tough meat with lots of flavor potential.
What we want to do is cook long and slow so that the connective tissue becomes dissolved, tender, and yields all the flavor back in to the pot. The French, as usual, have a better way – braising with flavorings. Now braising – from the French “braiser” – combines both dry and moist heat. Beef Bourguignon is world famous for its delicious flavor, yet it is only simple braised beef with wine. Here the same technique is applied to the lamb shank – with wonderful results.
2 lamb shanks
salt and pepper
10 cloves of garlic
12 white mushroom caps
1 tsp coarse ground pepper
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs olive oil
1 bouquet garni – thyme, basil, and rosemary
1-1/2 cup Burgundy or other hearty red wine
1-1/2 cups beef stock
1 tsp tomato paste
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 400°F, with the racks set such that you can get your Dutch oven in about the middle of the oven. Yes – you can use something else – but a good cast iron Dutch oven is best. You’re on your own where other utensils are concerned. There are also people who do this in a crock pot – I’m not one of those. Anyway, dress your shanks with salt and pepper and sauté in hot olive oil until well seared on all sides. Reduce the heat and add the garlic. When the garlic is nicely golden – about a minute or so –
add your wine, salt, pepper, and the bouquet garni. If you’ve got fresh herbs, just tie them up with a string. If all you’ve got is bottled then you can wrap them in cheese cloth or –easiest of all – put them in a tea caddy and drop that into the mix. Advice: use a separate caddy for your garni’s or really get it clean after. I don’t think that lamb flavored tea would be quite right. Anyway, slow simmer things for 8 to 10 minutes.
I guess we need to talk about salt somewhere, and here is as good as any. Go easy on the salt – you can add more later, but taking it out can be fun. In fact, if your beef stock is not salt free then don’t add any salt, other than sprinkling the meat before browning.
Add the beef stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and slow simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes. Cover the pot, reduce the oven to 325°F, and cook for 90 minutes. This is called cooking in a falling oven. Quite traditional with the old wood-fired stone ovens.
Turn the lamb over, add the mushrooms and a bit more liquid only if needed. Don’t drown the meat. The liquid does not cover it. Cook for another hour.
Remove the lamb and mushrooms to a covered dish and strain the liquid through a sieve. Add the tomato paste and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pull the lamb off the bones – it should just about fall off and serve with mushrooms covered with sauce.