Sunday, October 17, 2010

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks

The leaves are starting to change here in Yankee Land, and that makes me want to break out the slow-cooker.  To whit, I present an epic-looking dish which is actually an easy midweek dinner that's just about ready whenever you walk in the door.
[Mark Bittman totally stole my thunder on this one.  The good news is, I was going to tell you that preserved lemons take time to make but are easy to buy, but Bittman just posted a recipe that only needs a few hours... so there you go. His uses sugar as well as salt (many do) so it won't taste exactly the same as mine, but I'm sure it'd be great.]

The wet rub for these shanks was actually JG's creation from about a month ago... I think because the weird jar of salt-packed lemons had been taking up pantry space and we weren't using them very fast, so he created a marinade with them and a few other powerful ingredients that was fantastic smeared on lamb steaks...  but I also thought it could be great for slow-cooked hunk o'lamb with just a little modification [reducing the oil and adding a bit of salt].

In the end, the texture of the meat [fall off the bone tender] and flavors were great and the onions were pure caramel-y goodness.  The sauce was a little on the salty side, so recipe below reflects my "notes for next time" adjustment.  People tend to call anything with preserved lemons "Moroccan-style." I think these flavors -- particularly with the rosemary-- are more eastern Mediterranean, but I don't really know.  I do know that they taste great together, and that's all that really matters to me.

Recipe: Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Rosemary and Preserved Lemons
I've tried browning the meat first, but it just burned the rub... braising the meat [cooking it above the liquid] will brown it, just not as deeply. I served it with a pressure-cooked mint risotto [and green beans], but couscous, bulgar, or orzo would be great for soaking up the sauce, too.
Wet Rub:
1 T fresh rosemary
1 T preserved lemon, rind only
3 large cloves garlic
1 T whole coriander seeds, crushed 
1 T olive oil
1 t salt

2 bone-in lamb shanks (~2 lbs)

For Slooow-Cooker:
4 medium onions,* sliced into thick discs
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T white wine or vermouth [or water]
2 T water

The night before [or six hours prior to cooking] chop herbs and spices until it forms a chunky paste.  Stir in oil.  Place each shank on a large piece of plastic wrap,  smear the paste all over it, and wrap tightly. [The tidy way: smear it, wash your hands, then slide them underneath the excess wrap and flip it over, encasing the mess.] Refrigerate at least 6 hours or until ready to cook.

The next morning [or 6 hours prior to serving], arrange onions in an overlapping layer covering the entire bottom of the slow cooker.  Add liquid [it shouldn't come over the top of the onions].  Unwrap lamb shanks and place on top of the onions.  Cook for at least 6 hours on low heat [dial-type cooker] and/or program for ~15 minutes before you're planning to eat.**

Once meat is done, transfer it and onions to a platter.  Skim the fat from braising liquid [which will double, thanks to the onions] and transfer to a small pot. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat and reduce liquid, stirring occasionally until it coats the back of a spoon ~5-10 minutes, depending on the amount of liquid.  Pour over the lamb and serve immediately.

*I used yellow, white would be fine, red would turn everything a tasty pink.
** My old slow-cooker had an off/low/high dial, my new-to-me programmable one just wants to know when I want it done and it chooses the temp... which I sometimes find irritating.

 Preserved Lemons:
In a clean glass jar, alternate layers of salt [at least 3/4" thick] and lemon quarters, beginning and ending with salt.  Intersperse bay leaves and black peppercorns.  Press down firmly with a metal spoon after each layer of salt.  Seal with an airtight lid and set aside in a cool dark place.  Every day for the next week, open the jar and press down the top layer. [As the lemons release their juice, air pockets will form.  These you do not want.] Set aside for another three weeks before using.

Mint Risotto: 
The pressure-cooked variation is described at the end.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cups short-grain brown rice [I use Nishiki brand]
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth 

6 cups water
1 tsp dried mint [spearmint]

1 Tsb fresh mint [I used a chocolate spearmint]
at least 1 1/2 tsp salt 

Saute onions in a large pan, pot, or small Dutch oven over medium high heat until onions begin to become translucent ~5 minutes. In a separate pot or in the microwave, heat 5 cups of stock until steamy [near boiling]. Add rice, stir thoroughly to coat with oil and saute until they start to pop, another 3-5 minutes. [You'd usually cook the arborio until it becomes translucent but that doesn't work with brown rice.] And garlic and stir until fragrant, ~1 minute. Pour in wine or vermouth and scrape up any stuck bits [called "fond"] from the bottom of the pan.

Stir off and on until almost completely evaporated, then add 5 cups of stock and stir until it starts to boil. Add herbs, if using, cover pot, and reduce heat to medium low/low. Cook 50 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure rice is just barely boiling. 

Uncover rice. Turn up heat to medium and stir frequently until the starchy liquid is almost gone, then add 1/2 cup of the remaining water  and, again, stir until broth is almost gone. [At this point you may think you have a lot of liquid left, but most of it is your delicious risotto starchey goo. The way I tell is by scraping the bottom of the pan with a (heatproof) rubber spatula. The rice and goo should fill back in the space as one; if liquid fills the space before the rice, you've still got more time to go.]

Add last 1/2 cup of water and salt. Stir well, etc. and check for seasoning. Serve hot, topping with a sprig of mint.

*If you have a pressure cooker, reduce total water to 4 1/2 cups. Add 3 1/2 cups to rice after cooking off vermouth. Seal and cook at pressure for 20 minutes. Continue with directions above using remaining 1 cup stock.


  1. Dear Whole-Grain Texan, I have never had lamb this good! I hunted down a jar of preserved lemons a few days ago and made this yesterday. There were no left-overs. I will be making it again soon since I want left-overs for the soup. Thank you so much. I'll be trying your cookie recipe this weekend. Your food is amazing and my family just thinks I'm a marvelous cook. HA!

  2. This is as close to heaven as most people will ever be. Thanks for sharing.

    Ana Var

  3. I just happened to be grilling lamb chops tonight and ran across your recipe earlier today. I modified your wet rub into a dry one (no olive oil) and used mint instead of rosemary. Also, didn't have time to prepare preserved lemon, so used lemon zest instead. It was a success! We will be cooking that again. I can't wait to try the slow cooked shank version when the weather gets warmer. Thank you!