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Fall-Apart Lamb Shanks with Almond-Chocolate Picada

This recipe is ludicrously long, but given that it comes from Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook, that should come as no surprise. If you have a weekend to spend lounging about the house and letting things cook, though, these lamb shanks are absolutely luscious and worth the time. They sure make the place smell wonderful as they cook.

This was one of those projects that I really feel I learned something from. I’ve never used crumpled wet parchment paper when braising before, and I felt it made a huge difference in conservation of sauce and ultimate tenderness of the meat. I so rarely make slow marinades and sauces with multiple steps like this, and having done it now, I feel like it opens up more possibilities in the future.

Dave likes to say that there are some things a person does which makes them gain a level, as if we were characters powering up in a video game. I think I leveled up in braising and sauce-making during the course of creating this meal.

I recommend trying this out as a learning experience, tasty dinner included at the end.

Fall-Apart Lamb Shanks with Almond-Chocolate Picada
(adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook by Paula Wolfert)
1/2 bottle (375 ml) red wine
1 medium beet, coarsely chopped
1 smallish onion, thickly sliced
A smallish handful of shallots, thickly sliced
1/2 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1/2 lemon, cut in half
1/4 C chopped plum tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 lamb shanks (about 2 1/2 lbs.)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Almond-chocolate picada (recipe follows)

Boil the wine until reduced to 1 C. Add the vegetables, spices, and herbs (except for the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the picada). Simmer for about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then toss the marinade into a gallon ziplock bag along with the lamb shanks. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Let it return to room temperature (if you have the patience!). Strain the marinade and set the wine and vegetables aside separately. Discard the lemon quarters.

Preheat your oven to 250º.

Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper on both sides, and brown them on all sides in olive oil in a heavy pan on the stovetop. Transfer the browned lamb shanks into a heavy casserole dish just big enough to fit them fairly snugly.

Now add the vegetables from the marinade to the pan, along with a bit more olive oil. Cook them over medium heat, stirring often, until they are tender, fragrant, and hopefully browned. Transfer them to the casserole along with the lamb.

Add 1/4 C water to the pan and bring to a boil. Try to scrape up all those yummy browned bits stuck to the pan. Boil until the water is reduced to a syrup. Add another 3/4 C water and bring to a boil, then pour it all off, along with the scraped up tasty bits, into the casserole. Pour the wine from the marinade into the pan, bring to a simmer, and then add that to the casserole as well.

Cover the lamb with a sheet of wet, crumpled parchment paper. Really, directly touching and covering the meat and other contents of the casserole. Put the cover on the casserole, stick it in the oven, and braise for about 4 1/2 – 5 hours, until the lamb is meltingly tender.

Separate the lamb out and refrigerate it on a covered dish. Strain the cooking juices, pressing down on the veggies to get as much liquid as possible out of them, then discard the solids. Refrigerate the liquids in a covered bowl. Chill long enough for the fat to solidify.

If you have a fat separator, or are really skilled at skimming off liquid fat, you don’t have to bother refrigerating anything at this point.

Skim the fat off the sauce. Boil the liquids until reduced to 1 C. Stir the picada (recipe below) into the sauce and cook over medium high heat until the sauce thickens slightly.

Season the lamb shanks once again with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with the sauce.

Bake for another 30 minutes.

Almond-Chocolate Picada
2 tbsp almond meal
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
1 slice of stale white bread, about 1″ thick, crust removed
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 tsp tawny port
1 tsp cooking juices from the lamb shanks

Toast the almond meal in a dry pan, stirring frequently, just until fragrant. Be careful not to burn.

Grind the garlic with the almond meal. (We use a mortar and pestle, but a small food processor would be fine.) Add the rest of the ingredients and grind or pound until smooth.

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12 Responses to “Fall-Apart Lamb Shanks with Almond-Chocolate Picada”

  1. Terry B says:

    Wow. This sounds and looks amazing. And you’re absolutely right about trying a new technique or learning a new skill. It opens up whole new worlds to you. That personal evolution is one of the things that makes cooking constantly interesting to me.

  2. Yvo says:

    That looks amazing! Does braising get rid of that gamey lamb taste? (I know, it’s what makes it lamb, but it’s not my thing…) Mmmm. I read through the recipe and honestly, I think after the initial cooking, I wouldn’t cook it again, I’d be too ready to eat it!!! Wow, props to you for having the patience to not only make it, but then take pictures to share with us!!!

  3. Steen says:

    Looks wonderful. I’m so ready to dedicate the time!
    I have another of Paula’s cookbooks, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco and found it so informative. Is The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook as good a read as I suspect?

  4. Brilynn says:

    Mmmm lamb shanks… You most certainly powered up with this one, you gained a flying cape at least!

  5. mr.ed says:

    Obviously not for somebody with kids. You’d be picked up for neglect. Also not good for serving to those who inhale their food, like Dave’s aunt Liz, who grew up in a large family and had to fight for her dinner. Hell, I’m going to try it anyway!

  6. Kristen says:

    Oh wow… that is one delicious looking meal!

  7. rob says:

    Danielle, I love braises. Once you’re comfortable with them, I think they’re about the easiest thing you can make. And the best part is that they’re so hard to screw up. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty damn hard to overcook a braise. By the way, the almond chocolate picada looks very interstin.

  8. Danielle says:

    Terry – Yes, exactly! And it’s one of the few artsy hobbies I have that consistently makes my dinner guests grateful and happy.

    Yvo – I’m afraid the lamb still tastes like lamb (which I think is great). Perhaps you could make something similar with beef short ribs instead?

    Steen – I really enjoyed it, yes. Though I think I liked Couscous better.

    Brilynn – Hurray! I really wanted the tail, though!

    mr. ed – Good think I only have a kitty, then. ^^

    Kristen – Thanks!

    Rob – I love them, too. It’s not that I haven’t made braises before – I just feel I learned even more about how to do them well, with this. I actually tend to make my braises on the stovetop in a Chinese sand pot.

  9. Julie says:

    Oooh, Danielle — clearly it’s been too long since I’ve come around to visit Habeas Brulee. You’re singing my kind of songs — maple desserts, lamb shanks, rich chowders — delish. I’m going to try this recipe, since I adore lamb shanks and I’m very intrigued by both the ingredients and the technique. Paula Wolfert is a goddess.

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  11. W. Newton says:

    See no one has responded in in a while. Searched. Found this recipe. Unbelievable. Thank you for this recipe. I definatly feel I took it to the next level. This came out great. Took 24 hrs to complete! What flavor! Go for it and make this!

  12. Kelly C says:

    This looks like a stunning dish. But it seems a lot of work for just two lamb shanks…has anyone doubled or even quadrupled the recipe?

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