Lamb Shanks With Gremolata Crumbs, Italian Style served on top of a bed of creamy parmesan polenta is a great dinner for a chilly weekend evening. This simple dish of humble Italian origins is so flavorful that it makes a wonderful meal to serve at a casual dinner party. The shanks are slowly cooked in the oven in a tomato wine braising liquid. The liquid infuses the meat with taste while the meat juices add a wonderfully rich depth of flavor to the liquid. After a couple of hours in the oven, the meat becomes so tender that it almost falls off the bone. Everything can be prepared before your guests arrive and kept warm in the oven. Effortless entertaining is what this meal is all about.
Italian Lamb Shanks
Serves two, adjust the recipe accordingly
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- 1 lamb shank per person, about 1 to 1 1/4 lb. each
- salt and pepper
- oil for browning
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 c. red wine
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into several pieces
- 2 c. beef broth
- 1 14.5 oz. can (about 2 c.) canned diced tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 c. water, more or less (if necessary)
- 1 branch fresh thyme, leaves removed and stem discarded
Season the lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the lamb shanks and brown well on all sides. Remove to a plate. Drain the oil from the pot.
In the same pot, add the onions and cook over medium heat until soft and just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the red wine and stir, scraping up all the browned bits. Simmer the wine until it is reduced by half. Add the carrot, beef broth, tomatoes, bay leaf and dried thyme to the pot and bring to a simmer. Put the shanks back into the pot and if necessary, add water so that the liquid comes half way up on the shanks. Cover the pot with a lid and place in the oven. Braise for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours (depending on the size of the shanks), turning half way through, until the meat is tender.
Remove the pot from the oven, carefully remove shanks to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Discard the bay leaf and skim off any accumulated fat from the sauce. Use a stick blender to blend the liquid and vegetables to a sauce like consistency. Add the fresh thyme leaves and simmer for five minutes. Taste for additional seasoning.
Crispy Gremolata Crumbs
- 1/4 c. panko breadcrumbs (or homemade breadcrumbs)
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced fine
- 1 small handful parsley, stems removed, leaves chopped fine
- salt and pepper to taste
In a small sauté pan, toast the bread crumbs until just turning golden. Remove to a bowl and add the zest of the lemon and mix well. Add the oil to the sauté pan and heat the garlic over low heat until just starting to turn color. Add the oil and garlic to the bread crumbs and mix well. Add the chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.
The shanks are wonderful served on a bed of polenta, risotto, noodles or even mashed potatoes. For this meal I made polenta finished with cream and Parmesan cheese. Ladle the soft polenta around the plate and place a shank in the middle. Spoon some of the tomato sauce over the shank and sprinkle with the crispy gremolata crumbs.
Lamb shanks are a relatively inexpensive cut that when braised slowly turns tough pieces of meat into succulent goodness. Coated in flavorful tomato wine sauce and bits of crispy breadcrumbs mixed with lemon zest, garlic and parsley, each mouthful of the tender lamb shank with the gremolata crumbs is enticingly good. I believe you will enjoy this Italian style of preparing lamb shanks. If you don’t wish to have a tomato based sauce, then I think you would enjoy my Slow Braised Lamb Shanks that are prepared with red wine, garlic and fresh herbs. They are served with lemon orzo and will remind you of a dish you might enjoy while visiting a Greek taverna. Either way, I think you will find lamb shanks to be a perfect dish for effortless entertaining and one that your guests will love.