Shanks have long been underrated—especially when it comes to lamb. All the glory goes to the rack and the leg, which may be more convenient but aren't nearly as satisfying.
I grew up eating lamb shanks at least once a month. My mother would simmer them slowly in an onion-tomato broth dotted with chickpeas, potatoes and dried lime. But what I remember most is my father slamming the bones down to retrieve the lovely, fatty, delicious marrow. He would usually eat it as is, right out of the bone, but at times, spread it on crusty bread with pickled garlic.
This dish is lighter than what I used to eat as a kid—but you should still dig for that rich marrow. The shanks are gently braised and served over a bed of sweet peas and charred lettuce. It's all topped with fried shallots, herbs and a generous sprinkle of green garlic—which is harvested before the cloves mature, resulting in a milder, more delicate flavor. Even if you don't make it for Easter dinner, this rustic lamb dish is a celebration of the beginning of spring.
To learn more, read "The Lamb Shank Redemption."
Lamb Shanks with Charred Lettuce and Peas
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour, plus marinating time
Cook Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours and 10 minutes, plus marinating time
For the Lamb:
5 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
5 pounds lamb shanks (4 pieces)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 fennel bulbs, roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 medium leek, roughly chopped
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
Four 2-inch-long pieces orange peel, removed using a vegetable peeler
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock or water
⅓ cup fried shallots
¼ cup finely chopped mint
¼ cup finely chopped green garlic or 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
For the Peas and Lettuce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small heads butter lettuce, quartered into wedges
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, very thinly sliced
Kosher salt, to taste
2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Make the lamb: Using a mortar and pestle, smash the anchovies and garlic into a smooth paste. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil.
2. Place the lamb shanks on a wire rack set inside a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper, and rub the anchovy-garlic mixture over the lamb shanks. Let sit at room temperature for an hour or, preferably, chill uncovered overnight then remove them 1 hour before cooking to bring the meat to room temperature.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°. Roast the lamb shanks, uncovered, until deep brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven to 325°
4. Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the fennel, onions and leeks and cook, stirring often, until very soft and golden brown, 16 to 20 minutes. Season the fennel, onion and leeks with salt and add the rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and orange strips and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and reduce by half, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and lay in the lamb shanks.
5. Transfer the pot to the oven and braise, covered, turning occasionally, until the meat is tender, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes depending on the size of the shanks.
6. Remove the lamb and set aside. Remove and strain the braising liquid until you have 3 cups. Place the lamb shanks back into the pot and keep warm.
7. Pour the strained braising liquid into a small saucepan. Skim any excess fat and reduce to 1 cup over medium-high heat, 20 to 25 minutes. Adjust the seasoning as needed.
8. Meanwhile, make the peas and lettuce: Using a pastry brush, coat a grill pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, grill the lettuce, cut side down, until lightly charred, 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
9. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots, then season with salt and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peas and cook until just warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lettuce and continue to cook, stirring often, until the peas and lettuce are tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Season with pepper and keep warm.
10. In a small bowl, combine the fried shallots, mint, green garlic and dill.
11. Transfer the peas and charred lettuce to a serving dish and place the lamb shanks on top. Spoon the reduced braising liquid over the shanks and top them with the fried shallot mixture. Using a microplane, grate lemon zest over the lamb shanks and serve.