Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Braised Lamb Shanks with White Beans & Rosemary

While spring has technically arrived, I'm still wearing my heavy winter coat and craving hearty stews. In a couple months I know the thought of using my oven will make me cringe, so I've got to get all the delicious braises in while I still can. Braised lamb shanks with white beans is a rustic one-pot meal that really sticks to your bones! 

Lamb shanks are cuts from the lower part of the lamb's leg, beneath the knee. The shank is one of the toughest cuts of meat on the animal as this area gets a lot of use. When braised however, they turn into something magical. The scent of lamb simmering away in winey, aromatic liquid fills your home with joy and makes your dog go crazy. Need I say more?

This is not a bad dish to make for company as it can be made a day or two in advance and kept in the fridge allowing its flavors to meld. This big rustic stew can be enjoyed throughout the fall, winter, and early spring. As expected, this dish screams for a glass of red wine and some crusty bread to sop up the delicious sauce.

Adapted from Julia Child, The Way To Cook, and Molly O'Neill, The New York Times, October 15, 1995

4 lamb shanks (about 5 lbs.)
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, tomatoes quartered 
3 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs rosemary 
2 bay leaves
1 lb. dried white beans, such as Great Northern or Cannellini (or 3 (15 0z.) canned white beans, drained), soaked overnight or quick soaked (see notes below)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove any excessive fat, sinew, or silver skin from the shanks and discard. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shanks (two at a time) to the pot and brown both sides, about 10 to 12 minutes per batch. Transfer shanks to a large plate and set aside.

Add the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to the pot and saute until vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour in the wine and allow it to come to a boil for a minute or two. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the tomatoes and their juices along with the chicken stock. Tie the rosemary and bay leaves together using butcher's twine and add to the pot. Return the lamb shanks to the Dutch oven, along with any juices that may have accumulated. Nestle the shanks into the pot, they should fit snugly and almost be covered with the braising liquid. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is nearly falling off the bone.

While the lamb is cooking, prepare the beans (if using dried beans). In a 4 quart saucepan, bring 6 cups of generously salted water to a boil. Add the drained and rinsed beans. Reduce heat, and simmer gently with the lid slightly ajar, until the desired tenderness is reached, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. 

Using tongs, remove the shanks and place on a clean plate. Spoon off as much fat from the surface of the braise as possible and discard the herb bundle. Gently stir the beans into the braising liquid and return the shanks to the pot and serve. Alternatively, place 1 shank on each plate, spoon on the braising liquid and beans, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings 

  • To prep the beans: pour the beans out onto a clean work surface, sort through them, and discard any shriveled beans or small stones. To soak overnight, rinse the beans in cold water and place in a large bowl. Cover with 6 to 8 cups of cold water. Let stand overnight or at least 6 to 8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans in cold water. For a quick soak, rinse the beans and place in a medium saucepan along with 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans in cold water. They are now ready for cooking. 
  • Veal shanks can be substituted for the lamb shanks. 
  • If you're feeding a crowd, feel free to pull the meat from the bones and then add it back to the stew (just don't forget to eat the yummy marrow before discarding the bones). This will ensure there's enough meat to go around. 

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