Okay, so I don’t celebrate Christmas and these lamb shanks can be eaten any time. I named them Christmas Lamb Shanks because I am using an heirloom Christmas Lima Bean that I bought through Rancho Gordo, the premier site for heirloom beans and other wonderful one-0f-a-kind goodies from south of the border. I was introduced to this company on a trip to Napa Sonoma that my husband and I took with Frances and Matthew a few years ago. Of course, if you don’t have access to these beans, which are meaty and unctuous and taste ever so slightly of chestnuts, you could substitute a good dried lima bean or other large runner bean.
Chicago is currently under a polar vortex and a former colleague from Russia says that we are living in Chiberia! This dish only takes about 30 minutes of prep time but then you want it to cook low and slow so it is wonderful to make on a day when you are stuck indoors. Alternatively it could probably be made in a slow cooker or cooked overnight and then reheated when you are ready to eat. This dish cries out for a really full-bodied red wine, preferably from California or Oregon, but a Shiraz or Spanish Rioja would also be wonderful.
I really don’t do any serious measuring and this dish can be increased easily – only limited by the size of your Dutch oven. The amount I made is enough for four servings and I used a 5 quart oval Dutch Oven to give you a reference point.
Christmas Lamb Shanks
Yield: 4 servings
3 to 3.5 pounds of lamb shanks (The lamb shanks these days seem to run really large so I am using only 2. The meat will be falling off of the bone so it is not a problem; however, if you are really looking for presentation, try to find 4 small shanks or serve the 2 on a platter and then remove the meat from the bone.)
1 pound of dried runner beans, soaked 18 hours (I changed the water 3 times before going to bed. You could soak them for less, but I want them REALLY unctuous.)
2 to 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 3 Tablespoons of EVOO or Grapeseed oil
1/4 cup of whatever red wine you will be drinking or have opened from the night before
5 large shallots, peeled, split into its 2 parts and left whole
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves which are trimmed, peeled and left whole or are lightly smashed
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 chunks each
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried rosemary
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
4 cups of chicken stock
28 ounces of whole San Marzano tomatoes, squeezed by hand into rough chunks
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
8 ounces whole button or Cremini mushrooms
3 Tablespoons of chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley for garnish
- Drain your beans which should have almost doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- In a Dutch Oven or heavy duty casserole (I recommend Staub or Le Creuset) large enough to fit the lamb shanks in one layer and hold everything else, heat the EVOO or Grapeseed oil to hot but not smoking. (If I am being totally honest, I added 1 Tablespoon of duck fat to the EVOO for flavor and its burning point, but since everyone may not have it around, I didn’t want to complicate things for you.)
- Make 3 or 4 deep slits in each lamb shank and stuff the slit with a sliver of garlic. This took 2 cloves from the total. Lightly dredge the shanks in the flour, shaking off any excess. I put the flour in a one gallon plastic freezer bag and threw in the shanks and sealed the bag. I tossed the shanks around to coat. It’s easy and you then just throw away the bag. You can season the flour if you wish with salt and pepper, but I didn’t.
- Brown the shanks in the hot oil – about 5 minutes a side. They will brown best if you don’t move them around except to turn once. Adjust your heat so the oil doesn’t burn. Once the shanks are browned, pour in the 1/4 cup of red wine to quickly deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits.
- Add everything else to the pot except for the parsley and mushrooms and stir through to mix. The beans and shanks should be covered with the liquid from the stock and tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil on top of the stove, then cover and place in the oven. Cook it for 3 hours, checking once to stir things. Then add the mushrooms and cook covered for 30 minutes more.
- Serve garnished with the parsley. Make sure you have plenty of crusty bread to soak up the sauce or some starch of choice. This dish reheats beautifully and only gets richer with time.