Tom Valenti’s Braised Lamb Shanks
I recently hosted a lovely dinner party for several of our good friends. I had promised one of them that I would make my somewhat famous braised lamb shanks (they will be way more famous after this blog!) ;). As I generally do with dinner parties, I had planned out the menu and had my list of to-dos. One of course, was to order the lamb shanks, which I did days in advance. Little did I know the disaster that would ensue!
I had the choice of placing my order at Whole Foods, Harry’s or a store I will not name. I chose the no name place because I was rather favoring them lately. I found their produce was beautiful and fresh and the prices were good. So when I called around and I could get Australian or New Zealand lamb shanks at any or all of the above stores at the same price, I thought, heh, I’ll give the littler guy my biz!
Their meat department assured me that they carried Australian lamb, so that is what I would be getting at $5.99/pound. I would pick them up Wednesday so that I could cook them Thursday, let them sit overnight and then reheat and finish the dish Friday before our guests would arrive.
Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear when I went to open that package on Wednesday (instead of Thursday), than USDA stamped all over the shrink-wrap?? Now I don’t know about you, but if I see USDA on my meat, I think it probably means it is from the United States! It might not have been a big deal, but it really bothered me that I was hoodwinked by the meat man! If you can’t trust your butcher, who can you trust?! I had prepared a big fat pot full of pricey wine, aromatics and my last frozen container of homemade chicken stock. You are truly messing with the wrong woman when you use my homemade chicken stock! Everything was ready and all I needed was some Australian lamb shanks! These American guys were not going in that pot!
Mr. Butcher Man had stood right there in front of me and my hubby as he wrapped those big hunks of shanks in that brown paper packaging and assured me that they were Australian, because of course, I was asking just to be sure. I bet he was smiling too (thinking “sucker”!), although I did not notice! I do not like the US lamb that I have tasted. I prefer lamb from New Zealand and Australia, so if I am going to the trouble to fix and eat this stuff, I wanna like it! And at $72.00 for the shanks and a near heart attack at that price, I should get what I ordered.
I could spend an entire blog post (and I just might) telling you all about that day. The only good news is that after getting the shanks home, I decided to go ahead and give myself one extra day and cook them on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Well, it was a REALLY good thing! Of course, I called the no name store and was informed that yes indeedy, the lamb was of US origin (NO!!! You are kidding me!!!). Then my patience was driven to the breaking point as I called and drove all over Atlanta to find out that almost everyone was sold out of lamb shanks until Friday.
I finally ended up at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market (which is very cool place, by the way!). They had just 6 shanks left and told me they were Australian. I assume they were honest about it, but who knows…I’m not buying what the butchers tell me anymore! I had to get lamb in some form in the pot full of $30 worth of wine, etc.! And I was so upset at the other store, they got their ole lamb back! Thank goodness, I had one extra day to correct the mess.
I know one thing, I will never again promise any particular food to anyone for a dinner party. I will always ask if there are allergies or dislikes, but folks coming to my house are going to eat what I fix or go home hungry! The hunt for the lamb was a disaster of major proportions.
On the bright side, the dish was amazing once I finally got to the end result! I use Tom Valenti’s recipe that has been around for a long time. I have tried several other recipes, but enjoy the flavors in this one the best. I like to make the dish at least a day ahead so that the flavors come together (it’s a darn good thing, especially with this crisis!).
This is a fabulous make ahead dish for entertaining. I have made several adjustments to the original recipe. I have noted them with a **. I prepare the shanks a day or two ahead and then puree the sauce and finish them in a Dutch oven before serving them to your guests.
I served this awesome dish with the best tasting and most incredibly fattening potato gratin (I will give up the recipe soon!), haricots verts, a simple green salad and french bread. Brownie Tart with Creme Anglaise was dessert that evening (my last post). It was a great bistro style dinner with great friends, fabulous wines and wonderful conversation.
Everyone had a great evening and all went extremely well in spite of the lamb disaster!
Braised Lamb Shanks
Adapted from Tom Valenti’s Lamb Shanks
Originally appeared in Parade, March 2002
My changes are noted with **
6 lamb foreshanks
Coarse salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/3 cup tomato paste
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
8 whole black peppercorns
3 anchovy fillets
1 whole head of garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 cups red wine
1 cup white wine
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups beef broth and 2 cups chicken (I use Pacific Organic Beef Broth and Homemade Chicken Stock)
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Season the lamb with salt and pepper.
3. Add the tomato paste and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, anchovies, and garlic; cook 3 minutes.
4. Add the wines, vinegar, and sugar; raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add the broths. Leave over medium heat while you brown the lamb shanks.
5. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil into a sauté pan. Over medium-high heat, brown the lamb shanks well on all sides, using tongs to flip them over.
6. Transfer lamb shanks to a roasting pan and pour the braising liquid on top. Cover with aluminum foil and cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours more, turning the shanks over every half hour until the meat is very soft. ** Instead of these directions, I only cook them in the roasting pan for a total of 2 1/2 hours because I cook them later prior to serving dinner (one hour covered and then 1 1/2 hours uncovered). I do turn and baste them while uncovered.
7. Remove the shanks from the braising liquid and strain the liquid. Skim any fat that rises to the surface, then use the liquid as a sauce. ** Instead of those directions, I refrigerate the dish overnight in the roasting pan after about 2 1/2 hours of cooking time. I then remove the pan from the fridge the next day, remove the hardened fat, garlic and remaining pieces of herbs. I heat up the dish so the sauce is liquid, remove the shanks and then puree the sauce with all the veggies included. I put the shanks into a large Dutch oven with the sauce, cover the pot and baste them peridocially for about 45 min. to 1 hr. prior to serving.