Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomato

by Kelly on December 8, 2009

PC074067We may have had some unseasonably warm afternoons around Boston this fall/winter, but in the past few days the temperature has been tiptoeing around freezing.  Accordingly, my cravings have shifted.  Visions of cassoulets, stews, and the often overlooked hotdish (or casserole for those not hailing from Minnesota) dance in my head.  These cozy favorites make the 6+ month stretch of New England cold bearable.  I even distinctly remember a weeknight a couple of years ago when a blizzard turned my typical 45 minute commute into a 5+ hour nightmare.  It was all made better by the fact that when I came home I was able to reheat a bowl of Baked Potato Soup and crash on the couch.  Heaven I tell you.  From browsing around the blogosphere I can tell I’m not the only one infatuated by winter comfort foods.  Victoria of The Idle Loaf made Turkey Noodle Soup and Leek and Bean Cassoulet with Biscuits from Veganomicon and Reeni of Cinnamon, Spice & Everything Nice whipped up some Mini Meatball & Ravioli Soup.  For my dinner I ended up going with Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomato.  When I was pulling some cookie dough out of the freezer I discovered a stash of my CSA share meat that I had not yet eaten, and these shanks were among them.   Lamb is an absolute favorite of mine so it seemed a shame to have let it sit in the freezer for so long.  I immediately set to braising them using a recipe from Cooking Light.  As I always do, I had the best intentions of making the dish according to the recipe.  Once I started cooking, however, it was hard for me not to throw various random things into the mix.  The recipe originally called for red wine, which was quickly swapped out for port from an open bottle I had on hand.  Caramelized onions and mushrooms were added to the dish to bulk it up and add flavor.  But by far my favorite, and I think the most impactful, addition was dark chocolate.  I’d been chopping a large block to melt as a coating for homemade graham crackers when it hit me I should add some to the pot.  I cannot recommend it enough in meat dishes, especially when tomatoes are also in the mix.  It adds a nice earthy background flavor.  The final product doesn’t immediately scream “CHOCOLATE!” but rather makes you wonder what the secret ingredient might be.  I had this over some Al Dente Wild Mushroom Fettucini, which I am absolutely loving, but it would have also been great atop a cauliflower mash or some polenta.  Even better, while this dish may taste and sound impressive, it is doesn’t require constant doting.  Once everything is in the pot you are free to decorate the Christmas tree, pen some holiday cards, or watch some TV.  If you don’t have any caramelized onions on hand this would still be great without them, but they definitely add a nice touch of sweetness and complexity.  Overall this dish was fantastic.  The flavors were well balanced, rich and hearty.  I only wish I had some good crusty bread on hand to sop up all the juices the pasta missed.

Lamb Shanks Braised with Tomato
Adapted from this recipe from Cooking light
Serves 4

-Cooking spray
-2 (12-ounce) lamb shanks
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-3/4 cup port
-1 (28-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes (I highy recommend Muir Glen)
-1 teaspoon italian seasoning (I used Penzeys Italian Herb Mix)
-1/2 cup caramelized onions
-12-16 ounces mushrooms (I used a mix of portabellas, which I chopped, and mixed wild mushrooms)
-1/2 ounce dark or unsweetened chocolate
-1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
-4 cups cooked pasta (I used Al Dente Wild Mushroom Fettucini)


Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper and add to the pan. Cook lamb for 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan.

Add garlic to the pan and saute 15 seconds. Add port and cook two minutes, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes, Italian Seasoning, and caramelized onions; cook two minutes. Return lamb to the pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer one hour. Turn lamb over and simmer 30 minutes. Add mushrooms to the pan and simmer an additional 30 minutes ,or until meat is done and very tender. Place lamb on a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Skim fat from the surface of the sauce. Stir in chocolate. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened. Return lamb to pan; cook 4 minutes or until lamb is thoroughly heated. Stir in parsley and serve over pasta.

What about you?  What dish most says ‘winter’ to you?

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On Grey’s Anatomy & Baking
December 10, 2009 at 9:34 pm

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Carolyn Jung December 9, 2009 at 1:15 am

Wow, that’s a tough one to nail down just ONE dish that says winter to me. It might be a big bowl of creamy Chinese rice porridge or short ribs braised in red wine or a big pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove that makes the whole house smell so good.


Lauren December 9, 2009 at 6:50 am

Now THAT is gourmet comfort food! Lamb is probably my favorite type of red meat, and this recipe sounds fantastic.

I adore roasted root veggies, sweet potatoes, and winter squash this time of year. Lasagna is another of my favorite winter-time meals.


CaSaundra December 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

I have never ever had lamb–I am not a big meat fan unfortunately, but yours turned out beautiful. Hope your enjoying your holiday season!!! 🙂


Jen (Modern Beet) December 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm

yum! This looks lovely! I never used to eat lamb that much, but where I was living last year there was a Halal butcher close by, who always had a huge selection of lamb (and not that much else, actually!). I came to love it and now search it out.

Have you checked out “All About Braising” by Molly Stevens? It’s fantastic for winter comfort food ideas


Shannon December 9, 2009 at 2:53 pm

wow, now that’s done right! way to go with that chocolate addition 😉 it’s not something i would’ve thought of before, but maybe someday i’ll be that good!


sophia December 10, 2009 at 1:23 am

Oh…lordie….any excuse to add a huge chunk of chocolate into my food! That looks like it’s just “falling out the bone” tender and intense in flavor…ohhhh….

Clam chowder says winter to me!

Reply December 10, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Wow, that looks great! I think when I think of winter food, I think of root vegetables. I love to throw parsnips, sweet potatoes and some squashs into a crock pot with some beef broth and spices and just let it sit all day and then serve with some sort of grain. Yum. I am known to make a mean pot roast this time of year too.


Kerstin December 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Your lamb looks perfectly cooked and I love your additions, especially the chocolate! I haven’t been brave enough to try cooking with chocolate in savory dishes yet, but I’m looking forward to it!


Diana December 21, 2009 at 4:51 am

I think an Irish beef stew is the best winter dish in my book. With Guiness and red wine! Love lamb though.


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