With the arrival of fall weather in California, I’m in the mood for heartier entrées like these flavorful lamb shanks. They’re marinated overnight in a fragrant blend of herbs and spices, seared on the stovetop along with a mirepoix, then combined with tomatoes and a generous portion of port wine before spending 2 full days in the water oven.
Three days of prep sounds crazy, but in fact there’s very little active time, and the results are worth waiting for. And I find the very long and low cooking time delivers an extra bonus: soft and luscious marrow that’s a treat unto itself. Just remember to plan accordingly and get started 3 days before you want to serve this impressive dish.
In most sous vide meat preparations we brown or sear the protein after it comes out of the water oven, but in this case, browning before bagging adds concentrated flavor to the sauce in the bag. Another reason for browning before cooking is that you won’t lose any of the savory sauce as you would if you had to pat dry the cooked shanks for browning after they’ve been cooked sous vide.
The shanks are delicious accompanied by any of a wide range of starches, such as polenta, risotto, or potatoes; the list goes on. I frequently cook additional shanks in this style to make a homey Shepherd’s Pie for another meal. Let me know if you’d like the recipe.
Note: 3 days before you plan to serve the lamb shanks, freeze the stock and tomatoes and prepare the marinade.
- Place the shanks in a food storage bag large enough to hold them comfortably; set aside while you prepare the marinade.
- For the marinade, place the garlic, fennel, and all of the herbs and spices (the next 10 ingredients) in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to purée for another minute, or until the ingredients resemble a grainy paste. Process another minute, then scrape the sides again. With the machine running, add the olive oil through the feed tube, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the oil is fully incorporated but the paste is not runny (you may not need a full 3 tablespoons).
- Remove the marinade paste from the bowl of the processor and, using a rubber spatula, add it to the bag with the lamb shanks, spreading the paste over the shanks and turning to cover them completely. Use all of the paste. Seal the bag and refrigerate overnight.
- Two days before serving the lamb shanks, preheat the water bath to 140ºF (60ºC).
- Carefully remove the shanks from the bag containing the marinade. Gently scrape the marinade paste from the shanks, reserving it for later.
- Tie the shanks with kitchen string to prevent the meat detaching from the bone during cooking. Dredge the shanks in the flour 2 at a time, shaking off any excess. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, fat, or oil in a cast-iron or sauté pan large enough to accommodate 2 shanks at a time.
- Over medium-high to high heat, brown 2 shanks at a time, about 2 minutes a side or a total of 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining 2 shanks.
- Add the chopped onion, carrot, and celery to the same pan, using an additional tablespoon of fat if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes, just until they soften and wilt, being careful not to brown. Remove the pan from the heat and add the reserved marinade paste, stirring to incorporate into the vegetables. Transfer the vegetable–marinade paste mixture to a plate to cool.
- When the shanks and the vegetables have cooled, place one portion each of the frozen stock and tomatoes in each of 4 food bags. Carefully place 1 lamb shank and a quarter of the vegetable–marinade paste mixture in each of the 4 bags. Vacuum seal the bags quickly so that the frozen ingredients do not have time to melt.
- Cook for 48 hours.
- Remove the bags from the water bath. Transfer the shanks to a cutting board, reserving all of the vegetables and liquid. Carefully remove the string from the shanks and place them in heated serving bowls or plates. Cover loosely with foil while preparing the sauce.
- Place the reserved vegetables and juices from the food bags in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tawny port and cook until the sauce is reduced by a third, about 10 minutes. It should have the consistency of thick gravy.
- Ladle about ¾ cup of sauce over each plated shank and sprinkle with minced parsley or chives if desired. Serve immediately with soft or grilled polenta, pasta, risotto, mashed potatoes, or an accompaniment of your choice.