If you want to dazzle your partner with a meaty, sumptuous, restaurant-style entrée that’s not too difficult to prepare, braised lamb shanks are a good bet.
You’ll find them on several local restaurant menus. Most times, to prepare those shanks, all the chef does is deeply brown them, surround them with a rich saucy mixture, then cover and oven-braise them until they’re mouthwateringly tender.
Lamb shanks are cut from the lower, shin portion of the leg. It’s a flavourful but hard-working part of the lamb, which is why this tough cut should be slowly braised to make it tender.
I used Vancouver Island lamb shanks, which are sold fresh or frozen at many butcher shops and some smaller-scale grocery stores. Mine came from Slater’s Meats (slatersmeats.com) in Oak Bay, which obtained them from Parry Bay Sheep Farm (parrybaysheepfarm.com) in Metchosin.
You can also buy lamb direct from the farm. To find a list of southern Vancouver Island farms that sell lamb, go to the Island Farm Fresh website, — just click on menu and search “lamb.”
I decided to braise my lamb Mediterranean-style, because the boldly flavoured shanks marry well with ingredients used in that region. In my recipe, they include such ingredients as orange zest, balsamic vinegar, spices, rosemary, olives and red wine.
When cooked, the lamb shanks are surrounded with a deeply coloured, aromatic and splendid-tasting sauce. You can serve the lamb shanks with orzo, soft polenta, couscous or rice pilaf, and a green vegetable, such as wilted kale, steamed green beans or asparagus.
Island Lamb Shanks Braised Mediterranean-style
This succulent local lamb for two is braised with an array of flavour-enhancing ingredients.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About two hours, 45 minutes
Makes: Two servings
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large Vancouver Island lamb shanks (each about 400 to 475 grams; see Eric’s options)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine
1 (213 mL) can tomato sauce (about 1 cup of tomato sauce)
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick, broken into three pieces
10 to 12 green olives
• chopped fresh parsley, to taste
Place the oil in a 10-inch cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet and set over medium, medium-high heat (see Eric’s options). Season the lamb with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add lamb to the skillet and deeply brown a few minutes on all sides. Set shanks on a plate.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Remove all but 1 Tbsp of the oil/fat from the skillet.
Add the onions and cook until tender, about three minutes. Mix in garlic and tomato paste and cook for one minute more.
Pour wine into the skillet, bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Add the tomato sauce, zest, juice, vinegar, honey, rosemary, cumin, paprika, coriander, cinnamon and olives to the skillet. Bring sauce to a simmer and season with salt and pepper.
Pour the sauce over the lamb. Cover skillet tightly with foil and bake the lamb in the oven until it’s very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.
Skim excess fat from the surface of the lamb’s sauce. Serve lamb, topped with sauce and chopped parsley.
Eric’s options: If don’t have an ovenproof skillet, brown the lamb in a regular skillet. Set lamb in a casserole large enough to hold the shanks in a single layer, with some space between each one. (A casserole about 11 inches long and eight inches wide would work.) Make the sauce in the skillet, then pour over the lamb shanks in the casserole. Cover and bake in the oven as noted in the recipe.
If you can’t find Vancouver Island lamb shanks, any other lamb shank, of course, will work in this recipe.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.