Braised Lamb Shanks and Polenta


My butcher’s name isn’t Nacho.  But that’s what he told me to call him.  The other day I asked the woman at the deli counter for lamb shanks, but they didn’t have any.  Nacho overheard, and when I was checking out, he came trotting over and said, “I put lamb shanks on my order for tomorrow.”  How can you not love a butcher like that?

I won’t spring for rack of lamb unless it’s an occasion, or unless I really want them, but shanks are more affordable.

Why are the animals always "smiling" in these pictures? It's weird.

You could easily do a vegetarian version of this by just omitting the lamb and using veg stock.  It would still be warming in winter.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta

servings 4

For the lamb:

1 large lamb shank
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 carrots, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 large onion, medium dice
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef stock
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  Preheat oven safe high-sided pan to high.  Season the shank generously with salt and pepper. Once the pan is ripping hot, sear the shank on as many sides as possible.  Depending on how it’s shaped, the sear might be uneven.  It’s alright, just do the best you can.

Remove shank, add vegetables and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mushrooms and tomatoes would be a nice addition.  Cook 4-5 minutes until lightly caramelized.  Add tomato paste and garlic and cook another minute.  Add wine and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Reduce by half. Add beef stock and another pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Add lamb back into pan.  Cover with lid or foil.  Place in oven.  Depending on the size of your meat, could take 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours. While the meat is cooking, you can make the polenta.  You’ll know the shank is done when it’s fork tender.  If the sauce is getting too thick, thin with hot water.

The first time my braised meat shrunk I thought, "Where did all the meat go?" Now I know, it didn't go anywhere, the fat did, basting that beauty while it went. In unrelated news, that's a parmesan rind on the left that I chucked in the last half hour. Because why not?

Remove shank and rest for 15 minutes.  Use two forks to shred meat, throwing out the gristle. You can de-fat your sauce by skimming the top at this point.  Meh.  I like mine rich.  It’s no different than putting butter on a steak if you ask me. Except it’s lamb butter.  Mmmm… lamb butter.

Return meat to pan.  Turn heat on low just to warm through just before serving. Taste for seasoning. Adjust.

For the polenta:

2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 -2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil.  Whisk in corn meal, and stir continuously until thick and pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 5 minutes. Take off heat and spread in an even layer about an 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick in a small pan.  I used my 9 x 13, and it only took up half of it.  Place into the fridge until completely cool.  Cut into squares or use a biscuit cutter to cut into rounds if you like.  Heat pan on medium.  Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. I like to add a weeee bit more salt and some pepper at this point. Brown on each side.

Serve the lamb over the polenta with rosemary sprinkled on top.

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