So, after a bit of an email chinwag and conflab about what main ingredient to use, we came to the conclusion that lamb would be a great subject. Hence, this post deals particularly with the fantastic lamb shanks that arrived in the big and exciting box, but there will be another one (or two) involving the wonderful piece of rolled shoulder of lamb that arrived at the same time. Something to look forward to!
Now these lamb shanks weren't just any old lamb shanks, they were e-flipping-normous, at 500g or so each. Beautifully meaty and although they appear a little pricey at £11.20 for the two (price as at January 2015), they really are whoppers. I could easily see just one shank feeding two children, off the bone, of course.
There were many reasons for wanting this recipe to be a little bit special, not least the fact that Farmer's Choice wanted to put it on their website. (It's here, if you are curious!) The quality of the lamb was the primary reason, as something so good just demanded respectful and celebratory treatment.
I had an image in my head of how I wanted the lamb to look on the plate - deeply coloured, richly flavoured and supported by a substantial, delicious sauce. Initially, I had a quick peep at what lamb recipes they had already - as I didn't want to inadvertently echo someone else's ideas. Knowing what to avoid is as valuable as knowing what to include! I also asked on a couple of Facebook pages - Rhubarb & Ginger's included - about people's favourite lamb shank recipes. The general consensus of opinion seemed to really rate any recipe that had red wine involved with it. Red wine wasn't an obvious choice for me - and because of that, of course I had to go with it.
I knew that I wanted to use the slow cooker with the lamb shanks, as being well worked leg muscles, they would require long slow cooking to achieve that buttery, melting texture that is so mouthwatering. As a consequence, I pondered additional ingredients that would cope well with slow cooking and lend their flavours to the meat. Ingredients such as carrot, leek and celery along with herbs such as rosemary and mint - both of which are traditional herbs for lamb. Now the traditional "sweet thing" that accompanies lamb is redcurrant - redcurrant jelly, ordinarily. However, having just been through Christmas, cranberry was very much in my mind and I decided to go with the subtle dryness of cranberry as opposed to the high sharpness of redcurrant. I thought that perhaps the acidity from the red wine would be better matched with the cranberry.
I had the basis of a tasty recipe, involving simple, traditional ingredients together with an economical, labour saving cooking method. Of course, the fact that the very idea of all these ingredients coming together in a completed dish made my mouth water, was another good sign.
The method of cooking and preparation went well, the shanks behaved themselves in the slow cooker (didn't dissolve or stay raw!) and as I served the meal both the aroma and the look of the thing were so promising.
I had tasted all the way through the cooking process, checking for seasoning, tartness, sweetness, balance of flavours etc. and the finished article was just divine. The meat was so soft you could cut it with a spoon, it just dissolved in your mouth with tenderness. Juicy and so flavourful, I was thrilled. Mmmn, so, so, delicious that the eating of it had me smiling in pleasure. This was my son's first experience of a lamb shank and he was just as happy as I was. He declared it to be "absolutely great!" and professed to be "in little diner's heaven" - which is high praise, believe me.
I served the lamb with some parsley mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The sauce is packed with goodness and needs something like mashed potato to absorb all those lovely flavours. You won't want to lose a bit of it just because you don't have a spoon to hand! I found the parsley gave a nice fresh note to the comforting notes of the lamb.
This is the kind of recipe that you can use for a special Sunday dinner, a romantic dinner for two or a dinner party with friends - who will, I am sure, be requesting the lamb shanks again upon return visits!
|Trimmed and ready to be seared|
Firstly, when trimming the lamb shanks, don't be scared to remove the skin. Personally, I think the sight of waterlogged, flabby skin on an otherwise glorious lamb shank is off putting in the extreme. Because of the long slow cooking, the skin has no choice but to appear this way - and if you're keen to retain the flavour from it, you can always drop it into the slow cooker individually and fish it out before serving.
Remember that this is a long slow cook, so you'll need to defrost the lamb the night before and get cracking with preparation in the morning, to achieve the seven hours' cooking that is necessary.
A few tips as regards the ingredients - firstly, I found that using whole cranberry, cranberry sauce is preferable to the mashed up version. That way, you stand more chance of tripping over a whole cranberry on your plate, which is an absolute delight. Secondly, when chopping the fresh parsley, make sure to include the parsley stalks. They won't be discernible on the plate, but the flavour is very valuable in the sauce. Lastly, a vote of confidence for the award winning Essential Cuisine's Lamb stock. Without doubt, the best lamb stock for a quality recipe. If you haven't tried their range of stocks yet - where have you been?
My last tip for you is regarding the flour paste thickener for the sauce. Make sure to take the pan off the heat before adding the paste and make sure to mix, mix, mix and stir, stir, stir, to prevent it setting into a gelatinous lump on the bottom of your pan. Once incorporated into the sauce, it is then fine to replace onto the heat - but carry on stirring - the only way to ensure a lump free sauce. You can thicken the sauce to your satisfaction, then set it aside until you are ready to heat it back up and serve, if necessary.
If, as I did, you find you have much more sauce than is required, for goodness sake don't throw it away. Decant it into a bowl and refrigerate it for a tasty lunch the following day with some crusty bread. Luscious!
Well, there you have it. Enjoy the process, the cooking and most of all, the eating!
|Veggies and herbs, all ready for action|
2 tbsp olive oil
2 x 500g lamb shanks
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery
1 large leek
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
10g salted butter
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried mint
400ml full bodied red wine
400ml lamb stock
125g cranberry sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp plain flour.
1. To begin, take the celery and remove the strings from the back of each stick. Chop one and a half sticks finely and the remaining half, into bite sized pieces. Place in separate bowls. Chop two thirds of the leek finely and one third into bite sized pieces and place into the corresponding bowls so as to keep the finely chopped and bite sized pieces separate. Chop two thirds of the peeled carrots finely and one third into bite sized pieces and place into the corresponding bowls.
2. Take the parsley and remove the stalks from the leaves. Chop the stalks and add to the finely chopped vegetables' bowl. Reserve the chopped leaves for use later in the recipe.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan until really quite hot. Add the lamb shanks, sprinkle with a little sea salt & black pepper and sear them on all available sides until golden and caramelised. Place them into the slow cooker with the bite sized vegetables and switch to low.
4. Reduce the heat under the frying pan to moderate and add the onion, garlic, bay leaves and finely chopped vegetables. Cook for some 5-10 minutes, until slightly softened.
5. Add the butter, rosemary, dried mint, a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
6. Stir to combine and allow to sweat and cook through a little more until the vegetables are somewhat transparent and softened and the herbs have become aromatic.
7. Increase the heat under the pan, add the red wine and bring to a lively boil for some 2-3 minutes.
8. Add the lamb stock, cranberry sauce, Worcestershire sauce and chopped parsley leaves. Stir through and reduce the heat under the pan, back to moderate.
9. Once the flavours have had 5 minutes or so to mingle, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. I doubt you will require more salt, but I needed to add more pepper at this stage.
10. Place the flour into a small bowl and wet down with water until it forms a loose, pourable paste.
11. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the paste in a thin stream to the sauce, stirring very well and constantly. Continue to stir until the paste has been accepted into the sauce.
12. Pour the sauce into the slow cooker, giving everything a little stir to ensure everything is coated. Replace the lid and cook for a minimum of 7 hours, returning to turn the shanks in the sauce, every 2 hours or so. Depending on the size of your shanks, you may need to turn the slow cooker up to medium as you go.
13. When the cooking time is up, ladle the sauce from the slow cooker to a saucepan. Turn the slow cooker to low in order to keep the shanks warm and run a slotted spoon through the sauce, returning any vegetables you may catch to the slow cooker.
14. If necessary, you can skim any fat from the surface of the sauce, then bring to a gentle boil and allow it to reduce to a thicker, glossier appearance and an intensified flavour. This is entirely to taste, so when you are happy with your sauce, you are ready to plate up.
Serve the shanks on buttery parsley mashed potatoes with the vegetables from the slow cooker, a selection of fresh vegetables and the gorgeous sauce poured over the shanks. Heaven!