Lamb Shanks With Tomatoes and Olives
For my most recent dinner party, I wanted to serve a lamb dish that I could prepare ahead of time and that would actually improve in flavor by being prepared a day in advance. I bought lamb shanks from Shepherd’s Lamb and turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and used this recipe. Although the meat was so tender by the time I finished braising it that it was falling off the bone, I took care to keep the meat on the bones for serving – a rustic and beautiful touch.
And, by the way, Antonio Manzanares told me that Molly Manzanares prepares lamb shanks in a slow cooker a day in advance. What better endorsement of long, slow braising a day ahead of serving could I want?
The briny flavor of olives makes this dish, so buy good ones. My favorites here are a mixture of the big green kind from southern Italy and kalamatas or the small dried olives from Morocco or Greece. Other cuts and meats you can use: short ribs (which will also take a long time); chunks of lamb or pork shoulder (which will be faster) or beef chuck or brisket; bone-in chicken parts (which will be much quicker), preferably thighs.
Yield: four servings
Time: two hours or more, largely unattended
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 4 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups sliced onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, a couple sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, white or red wine, water, or a combination 1 cup chopped tomato (drained canned is fine)
- 1 1/2 cups assorted olives, pitted
- Minced fresh basil or parsley leaves for garnish
- Put the oil in a large pot with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shanks and brown on all sides, sprinkling with salt and pepper as they cook. (You can also do the initial browning in the oven: Heat to 500°F and roast the lamb shanks-you may omit the oil-turning once or twice, until brown all over; this will take a little longer but will be somewhat easier and much neater.)
- Remove the lamb and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minute, then add the liquid, some salt and pepper, and the tomato; stir to blend.
- Return the lamb shanks to the pan, turn them once or twice, cover, and turn the heat to low.
- Cook for 30 minutes, turn the shanks, and add the olives. Continue to cook for at least another hour, turning occasionally, until the shanks are very tender (a toothpick inserted into them will meet little resistance) and the meat is nearly falling from the bone. (At this point, you may refrigerate the shanks for a day or two and then reheat.)
- Garnish with basil or parsley and serve.
This locally inspired recipe is brought to you by Pam Walker. Pam is an avid home cook, writer, and local farm and food activist who is also a board member of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute. Thank you, Pam, for helping inspire us to use locally sourced ingredients!