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How to make cabernet-braised lamb shanks

Lamb shanks braised in red wine and tomatoes.

Lamb shanks braised in red wine and tomatoes. Credit: Marge Perry

Looks can be deceiving. Lamb shanks have a Flinstonian vibe — it’s easy to picture Wilma serving one to Fred on a big stone slab. But it’s a good guess that Wilma didn’t slowly braise hers in Cabernet and tomatoes until the rich, tender meat was nearly falling off the bone.

Here in the modern age, a lamb shank served over creamy polenta, cauliflower puree or buttery egg noodles makes a dramatic, generous-looking dish. It also looks more complicated to prepare than it is: you simply sear the shanks, sauté aromatic vegetables, and then let them simmer in wine, tomatoes and broth ever-so-gently for a couple of hours. During that time, they will fill your home with a nearly unbearably enticing perfume. (Be prepared to fend off passersby drawn by the siren call of that aroma: they will try to sneak tastes from the pot.)

The shanks may be made up to a day or two ahead and reheated, although in truth I would not turn my nose up at 3-day-old leftovers. And speaking of leftovers, if you have such a thing: the meat, shredded and rewarmed in the sauce, may be tossed with pasta and called lamb ragout.

Yabba dabba do!


4 (1-pound) lamb shanks

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and cut across in 1/4-inch slices

1 carrot, halved lengthwise and cut across in 1/4-inch slices

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 cup Cabernet wine

1/2 cup unsalted chicken broth

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1. Season the lamb shanks with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium high, add the lamb and cook, turning occasionally, until it is browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, oregano, basil, and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the wine and broth and bring to a boil. Cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt; bring the mixture to a boil, return the lamb shanks to the pan, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer 1 hour. Turn the shanks over and gently cook, covered, until the lamb is very tender, about another 1 1/4 hours.

Makes 4 servings.

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