How to cook the perfect lamb shanks

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  • If you’ve ever ordered a lamb shank in a restaurant or down at the local gastro-pub, then you’ll know that the tender, fall-off-the-bone meat is truly spectacular.

    However, if the idea of cooking these at home fills you with dread, we’ve got some useful tips to make sure you have succulent shanks everytime.

    What is a lamb shank?

    The shank is taken from the top of the lambs leg. The ‘fore shank’ is from the front legs, while the back legs are referred to as ‘hind shanks’. Traditionally a very cheap cut of meat, however with a spike in popularity from chefs and home cooks alike, lamb shanks have also increased in price.

    Lamb is usually enjoyed during the spring/summer months and is only considered as such for the first year of the animal’s life, anything past this and it would be classed as hogget, and then mutton from 3 years onward.

    Illustration of cuts of lamb

    Getty Images

    Choosing the perfect lamb shank

    We would always recommend choosing British lamb, and organic wherever possible. Buy from your local butcher and that way they can clear up any queries you may have, and they can also tell you more about the location and welfare of the animal.

    Butchers

    Two young butchers | Getty Images

    Eddie McDonald, Senior Development Chef at Donald Russell shared some of his expert advice with us: “The best quality lamb should be matured to ensure that the meat will be tender, flavoursome and succulent. Donald Russell lamb is matured for a minimum of 10 days, depending on the season. The butchers use their skill and experience to ensure that the lamb has been matured for just the right amount of time.

    “They can tell when the lamb is ready as it will have a slightly darker colour than unmatured lamb and it will have a good, even marbling with small flecks of fat throughout the muscle. This is critical to the flavour of the meat, as the fat melts during cooking making it juicy and tasty.”

    How to cook lamb shanks

    When it comes to cooking, the key here is take your time – lamb shanks are a very tough cut and need to be cooked slowly for a period of time. The fats and sinews in this cut need to render down, making for beautifully tender meat that’s full of flavour.

    You can cook it low and slow for up to 8 hours – great for slow cookers, or cook it higher for around 2 hours.

    Eddie recommends braising slowly, this involves cooking meat in liquid (often stock or wine, or a mixture of both), at a low temperature in the oven, or on the hob. This gentle slow cooking process is a combination of roasting and steaming and transforms cuts of meat that are too tough to roast, into mouth-watering dishes.

    As lamb shanks are naturally on the bone, there will be an amazing added depth of flavour. The bone also helps minimise shrinkage of the meat when roasting, so that the joint holds its shape better. Plus, you can use them to make a delicious stock after your meal.

    When it comes to adding flavours to lamb, a traditional mint, redcurrant, red wine, tomato base is always great with lamb, it’s a family favourite that will never disappoint.
    Lamb is also used regularly in Indian and North African dishes too, so pairings such as ras el hanout, dried fruits, a variety of nuts and even rose will complement this meat.

    Traditional braising method for cooking lamb shanks:

    Step one: Prepare the meat
    Allow the meat to come to room temperature and pat dry with kitchen paper.

    Step two: Sear for flavour
    Heat a large ovenproof pan on a high heat, add a little oil and sear the meat in batches in a single layer until evenly browned all over.

    Step three: Add the liquid
    Add wine, stock or water, vegetables and herbs or spices. Make sure that the liquid covers at least a third to a half of the meat and bring to a gentle simmer. 

    Step four: The cooking process
    Cover with a lid and transfer into the preheated oven (140ºC-160ºC/Gas 1-3) or continue to simmer gently on the hob at a very low temperature. The oven method is gentler and the meat does not stick to the pot. Check from time to time and top up with liquid if needed.

    Step five: Test the meat
    We recommend checking casseroles after 1 hour and at regular intervals thereafter. Insert a meat fork into the thickest part of the joint – it should slide in and out easily. With smaller cuts, simply take a piece out and taste it.

    Our top recipes for cooking lamb shanks

    1) Pot-roasted harissa and vegetable lamb shanks

    With ground cumin and harissa paste to add a spicy kick to the meat, this lamb dish is full of flavor and makes a great alternative to your usual lamb recipe.
    Get the recipe

    2) Tunisian braised lamb shanks

    Spicy Tunisian harissa paste adds a fiery flavour to these lamb shanks.
    Get the recipe

    3) Minted lamb shanks with barley

    Brown the lamb to give this dish a really great flavour – it’s easy to make and you can freeze it too.
    Get the recipe

    Enjoy!