Don’t freak out. You can do it!! Something I love about braising big meat is that it’s basically the same technique every time. Follow this method with chuck roast, short ribs, pork shoulder, or lamb shanks, and you’ll get that delicious fall-apart meat you can’t help but crave on cold Sunday nights. Yes I realize its currently 100 degrees outside, but lamb shanks were on sale at Sprouts and I’m not going to let an opportunity like that pass me by.
Here’s the basic steps home cooks need to remember for a clutch braise:
- Start with a hard sear. Get your frying pan or dutch oven ripping hot with about a tablespoon of oil, aggressively season your meat, then brown the meat on all sides. When you’re done, set it aside on a plate. See that brown stuff leftover in the pan? That right there is money! Loads of flavor packed into those little bits so DO NOT wash your pan.
- Add flavor elements. This is when you want to add your aromatics, veggies, tomato paste, spices, etc. Let them sweat, toast, and bloom, and allow for some more delicious browned goodness to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Deglaze. This is most commonly done with wine, but beer, vinegar, or another flavored liquid may be used. Pour it right into your cooking vessel and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. The browned bits (aka fond if we’re being fancy and cheffy) will dissolve into the cooking liquid and make everything flavorful.
- Low and slow cooking. Put the meat (and any accumulated juices) back in the cooking vessel and add enough broth so that the meat is about 80% of the way covered with liquid. Crack the heat up to high until its just boiling. From here, you have a few options. If it’s in a dutch oven, throw a lid on it and move to an oven set at 300-325 degrees F for around 2-4 hours (depending on what kind and how big your meat is). If you planned on using a slow cooker, transfer it over (carefully, that ish is hot!) and let it braise on low for around 8 hours. If you planned on using an Instant Pot/pressure cooker, well you should have done all the previous steps in the vessel itself, and now its time to pressure cook on high for 40 minutes or so.
Remember these steps. These are the basic fundamental techniques you can riff on. Today I spiced my lamb shanks with 5-Spice powder and ginger because I’ve been craving those flavors, but it easily converts to French, Italian, British, or Persian flavors. I’ll get to that part later.
- 3-5 lamb shanks, one per person plus enough for leftovers if that’s how you roll
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of Chinese 5-Spice
- A small onion, diced
- A carrot, diced
- A stalk of celery, diced
- A clove of garlic, minced
- A tablespoon of minced ginger or ginger paste
- 1/2 a cup of whatever wine you have leftover in your fridge
- 2 cups of chicken broth (or water and bullion cubes, whatever
- 4-5 springs of fresh herbs, rosemary and thyme are good
- Rice, pasta, mashed potatoes, couscous…whatever you want to soak up the yummy sauce
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Throw the lamb shanks in a bowl and toss with the 5 Spice and several large pinches of salt. Put your dutch oven on medium high and drizzle in some oil. When the oil’s screaming hot, GENTLY place the meat in the pan with tongs. Sear on all sides (that means 4 sides, not 2) for 3 minutes or so per side, so there’s a nice brown caramelization (brown = flavor). Put the shanks on a plate and set aside.
- In the vessel that you seared the lamb in, lower the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots, and celery (hey, that’s called a mirepoix!). Let the veggies soften and sweat for 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and leftover 5 Spice powder you tossed with the lamb, and let it all toast for 3-4 more minutes, stirring constantly. There should be lots of crusty brown bits at the bottom of your pan. Your house smells awesome right now.
- Add wine to your pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of your pan. The liquid will make this super easy! (PS remember this little method next time you have a mess of a stubborn pan to clean–heat with a splash of water and go to work!).
- Add the broth, herbs, lamb, and any accumulated juices back to the cooking vessel, and crank the heat until the liquid boils. Cut the heat, cover, and transfer to the oven. Check the meat after an hour and a half–you want it tender and falling off the bone. Remove the lid and let braise for 15-30 minutes longer. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving over your chosen starch, with the sauce and veggies drizzled on top.
Remix The Dish: there’s a million flavor profiles you can tack on to the shanks. Here’s a few ideas (for all of these, leave out the 5 Spice and ginger):
- French – deglaze with red wine, up the amount of fresh herbs
- Italian – saute tomato paste with the veg, deglaze with red or white wine, stir in plenty of dried or fresh oregano
- British – deglaze with Guinness and stir in a couple tablespoons of Dijon mustard before simmering
- Persian – dust the shanks with cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and cardamom, deglaze with warm water steeped with saffron threads. Garnish with mint.
I made Persian shanks a few years ago and threw it up on instagram. The yellow hue comes from the turmeric and saffron. So money.