As much as I can, I try to plan my meals around what looks best at the store or farmer’s market, keeping in mind both cost and seasonality. The thing is, I have pretty high standards when it comes to quality – I like my produce organic, my seafood sustainable, and my meat grass-fed – and the ingredients that meet these standards can often be disappointingly expensive. While I’m okay with paying a premium for quality ingredients that taste better and are far more nourishing (really, see: 1, 2, 3), I don’t necessarily want to just give my wallet outright to Whole Foods.
To hack the cost side of things, I often buy more unconventional cuts of meat. Oxtail and liver are totally fair game for me when I’m shopping for protein, though I get that they might be a tough sell for some (most) of my readers. But lamb shanks? Oh, lamb shanks I know you’ll like.
The idea for this dinner came about as I was walking through Whole Foods on Tuesday evening. Passing by the butcher case, I spied the lamb shanks – local, grass-fed, probably kissed by unicorns – for six dollars a pound. Alongside the shanks were more conventional cuts like legs and chops, but at double and almost triple the price, respectively. There wasn’t even a decision to make. I asked the butcher to wrap up the shanks, grabbed some vegetables, and headed home.
Dinner came together without much work, though the finished dish might certainly have people thinking otherwise. After the meat was seared and the vegetables sauteed (fifteen minutes at most), the lamb simmered away without fuss for two hours. If I had a slow cooker, maybe I would have left the lamb to cook gently there while carrying on with my day. Before serving, I quickly boiled down the broth to make a sauce, to which I added butter and peas at the very end.
Served over mashed white sweet potatoes, the final meal was something I felt good about serving, meeting all my persnickety high standards. But instead of costing the thirty-five dollars it might have run me at a restaurant, I was able to put each plate on the table for about a quarter of the price. Total win.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms and Peas
As I mentioned above, you could certainly prepare this recipe in a slow cooker. To do so, first sear the shanks and saute the vegetables in a hot pan. Transfer these items to the crock pot, and proceed with the recipe as described. Before leaving the house, set the slow cooker to low. When you return in the evening, you should find the lamb shanks cooked and falling-off-the-bone tender.
I served this recipe over mashed white sweet potatoes, which were amazing. If you can’t find white sweet potatoes, go ahead and mash plain sweet potatoes or even regular potatoes. I imagine this would be quite delicious over risotto, as well.
2 tbsp neutral oil (I used coconut oil)
4 lamb shanks
3 handfuls mushrooms (I used a mix of cremini and oyster, though plain button will work just fine)
5 garlic cloves
Rosemary, half a handful of sprigs
Thyme, half a handful of sprigs
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Sear the lamb shanks: If you can, bring the lamb shanks out of the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to start cooking and allow them to come to room temperature. Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil and beginning to smoke. Season the shanks with salt and pepper, and place them in the pot seasoned-side down. Reseason the top side of the shanks in the pot, and sear them in a pan for about five minutes so that they take on some golden brown color. Flip and sear the other side for an additional five minutes. Remove from pot and set aside.
Saute the vegetables: Halve and rinse the leek, then thinly slice white to light green portion. Slice the mushrooms. Smash the garlic cloves and remove the skins. Add all the vegetables at once to the pot (over the oil used from the lamb) and season with salt and pepper. Saute until leeks go a little transparent and garlic turns golden and fragrant. Stir in the Dijon mustard.
Add the herbs and broth: Get together your rosemary and thyme in a parallel pile and tie them into a bunch with some twine. Add them to the pot, along with the chicken broth. The broth should almost cover the shanks – if it does not, add some water or additional stock. Cover, and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for two hours: Stir and rearrange the shanks once or twice to ensure even cooking.
Make the sauce: Remove the shanks from the pot. Pluck out and discard the herb bouquet. Do your best to skim out most of the vegetables (so that you don’t boil them to mush) and set them aside in a small bowl. Bring the broth to a boil and allow the broth to reduce for about 10 minutes, at which point you should have only 1/2 of concentrated broth left in the pot. Whisk in the butter, and add the peas.
Serve: Serve the lamb shanks atop the leek and mushrooms. Spoon over the sauce. Devour.