The Difference Between The Shank Cut Of Lamb And Leg Of Lamb

You could be forgiven for thinking that lamb shank and leg of lamb is a distinction without much of a difference: Each are bone-in cuts from the leg region, but trying to apply the same cooking technique to both would be disastrous. 

The shank, located just above the knee, is less meaty, more sinewy, and all around tougher than the leg cut. Because of this, you'll want to use a slower cooking process like stewing or braising to make it velvety. Bone-in lamb leg comes from the back haunch and is proximal to both the sirloin and shank, making it by nature more tender. As such, lamb leg is a prime candidate for roasting in the oven. 

In addition to cooking methods, each cut differs in taste as well as texture. The shank really showcases lamb's prized gamey flavor, which makes it a favored choice for the assertively-flavored Mediterranean cuisines, such as luscious braised Moroccan lamb shanks. By contrast, the less fatty lamb leg brings out the more grassy, pastoral flavors inherent in the meat. You can explore its taste by making a decadent, herbal roast leg of lamb.

Preparing a lamb shank vs. a leg of lamb

Because the lamb shank is full of collagen, that's where the flavor is. Like any meat suffused with connective tissue, applying a high-heat cooking process will make it tough — at least after the initial searing process, which will add a flavorful depth. After that, only a slow braise will make the meat succulent. 

A big, oven-roasted leg of lamb makes for a spectacular centerpiece for you Easter meal. Like all roasting meats, it loves a good salt, spice, and garlic rub — and that's basically it. Marinades are not really necessary, as they might even make the leg tougher. A 5-pound lamb leg will be cooked to an internal temperature of medium after an hour in an oven set to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. As with the shank, it's always a good idea to sear the cut with high heat before roasting. This can be done easily under the broiler for a few minutes — just be sure to coat the meat with garlic afterward for a well-rounded punch of flavor. Lamb legs are already tender, especially with the bone in, so delivering a perfect roast to your table is pretty easy.