Fig and Red Wine–Braised Lamb Shanks

Fig and Red Wine–Braised Lamb Shanks

Make lamb shanks the star of the dinner table with this show-stopping recipe from Naomi Pomeroy’s cookbook Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking. The tannins and acids in red wine help balance the fat in the meat and add a richness to the sauce. Pomeroy suggests doing the braise a day ahead and reheating before serving.

6 (1-lb.) lamb shanks, at room temperature
6 Tbsp. plus ¼ teaspoon salt
3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced, peeled carrot, in large dice
4 cups diced yellow onion, in large dice
1 cup diced celery, in large dice
1 cup diced fennel, in large dice
3 cups dried figs
½ bunch thyme
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
1 (750-ml) bottle good-quality red wine
4 cups homemade stock or other high-quality stock
2 bunches green onions, root ends trimmed, for garnish (optional)
1 cup Demi-Glace, warmed for garnish (optional)

Dry each lamb shank well, then season each shank with 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1⁄2 teaspoon of the pepper. (Although this may seem like a lot of salt, much of it will fall off during searing.) Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat a black steel pan over medium heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until the surface is rippling but not smoking. Add the carrot, onion, celery, and fennel and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables take on some color. Transfer the sautéed vegetables to a large Dutch oven or deep roasting pan that will accommodate all of the shanks, and rinse and wipe dry the black steel pan.

Heat the black steel pan over high heat until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until the surface is rippling but not smoking. Working in three batches to avoid crowding the pan, immediately add 2 shanks to the pan and cook, pressing down with tongs until a deep brown sear forms on as many sides as possible, 5 to 6 minutes total. Since the shanks have an odd shape, you may have to turn them frequently. It’s normal for lamb fat to smoke more than the fat of other meat; open a window and turn on your exhaust fan. Place the seared lamb shanks on top of the vegetables in the Dutch oven. Rinse the pan and wipe it completely dry before repeating with each of the next two batches, adding 1 tablespoon of the oil for each batch. Add these shanks to the Dutch oven along with the figs, thyme, and garlic.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the wine and stock to a simmer. Pour the stock mixture over the lamb and vegetables and season with the remaining 2 tablespoons salt. Cover and cook in the oven for about 3 hours. Testing for doneness here is a delicate art. You want the meat to start to fall off the bone when pushed without it falling off when you pick up the shank by the bone. The meat shouldn’t feel like it’s about to slip away from the bone, but you shouldn’t have to work at getting the meat off, either. Still, it’s better to overbraise than underbraise to ensure tender meat.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift the shanks out of the liquid and place them in a baking dish. Strain the braising liquid, reserving the solids and the liquid. Remove and discard the thyme and garlic from the vegetables. Arrange the figs and vegetables around the shanks and pour about ¼ cup of the braising liquid into the baking dish. Reserve the rest of the braising liquid for another use, such as for the base of a rustic soup. Tent the shanks loosely with aluminum foil and return to the oven to reheat for about 10 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until rippling but not smoking. Add the whole green onions and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until blistered slightly in spots. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.

To serve with Fennel Gratin as shown (see the photo, left), partially assemble and cook the gratin up to 1 day ahead (per the instructions in that recipe). If you’re cooking and serving the lamb and fennel on the same day, assemble and bake the gratin while the lamb is braising. Reheat the lamb when the gratin has 10 minutes of baking time left.

Plate individual shanks with the seared green onions alongside. If you want the shanks to look really fancy, with a beautiful sheen, spoon about 3 tablespoons of warm Demi-Glace around each one. Serve the gratin family-style.

Reprinted with permission from Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.