In remembrance of the lamb shank
What ever happened to that once unfashionable and economical cut which became one of the cornerstones of the gastropub revolution?
Sadly in this revolution the lamb shank’s fate was to play the part of Trotsky to pork belly’s Stalin.
Whilst all things porcine still dominate the gastropub landscape, the lamb shank seems to have gone the way of the prawn cocktail and faded from view.
I’m not sure quite when we reached peak lamb shank? That point at which the once obsolete became ubiquitous, when over-familiarity began to breed contempt, but I’m fairly sure it coincided with its arrival on the Wetherspoon’s menu.
This is not to disparage Wetherspoon’s (I actually think they play a vital role in our communities, especially for the elderly) I’m just saying that if you plotted a bell curve of the life cycle of a food fad, the point at which said ingredient appears on the Wetherspoon’s menu would be in the long, long tail of the curve.
The lamb shank once a regular of my kitchen had became a cliché, and gradually disappeared from my repertoire of dishes altogether.
And so it is was until I recently stumbled upon a Nigel Slater recipe in his excellent “The Kitchen Diaries” series (Volume III in this case) under the title “Eating the unfashionable” where he laments the rise and fall of the lamb shank and I realised I hadn’t cooked a lamb shank dish for about 3 or 4 years. Time to remedy this oversight.
Lamb Shanks aren’t the bargain they once were, but still present good value. I paid around £10 for two medium/large, organic shanks from our local Butcher which was enough for a portion each for the two of us for dinner and one good size portion of leftovers for lunch the following day. Supermarkets now seem to price shanks at around £3.50 a piece for a slightly smaller, fattier shank of unknown provenance, but I’m not going to pretend I haven’t used them to good result in the past.
Nigel’s recipe features shanks cooked in wheat beer with a parsnip puree. I took this as my inspiration, adding a few elements of my own to push it towards being a Belgian style recipe, with a nod to Italy in the form of a Gremolata garnish which whilst non-essential, does help lift the finished dish and chimes nicely with the floral notes of the Hoegaarden.
So if you haven’t given the good old lamb shank a fair shake recently why not give this a try? As Nigel concludes “Now, no menu would be seen dead wearing one. Pity then, that they are so goddamn delicious”.
A note on Stoemp:
Stoemp is a Belgian mashed potato dish mixed with seasonal vegetables which have been cooked until tender and then mashed, and yes being Belgian, normally enriched with cream, and butter.
There is a school of thought that says Stoemp has three vaguely seasonal variants – white, yellow and green as described here.
Personally I see Stoemp as a good excuse to clear out the veg draw and will include anything receptive to a good mashing. My personal preference however would include carrots along with an allium or two in a 60% potato to 40% veg ratio.
Ultimately what you choose to add to your Stoemp should be dictated by what you have to hand.
Cooking time: 2-3 hours
Serves: 2 portions (and maybe some leftovers)
2 Medium-Large lamb shanks
500ml of Hoegaarden (they normally come in 330ml or 750ml bottles so you may be forced to sample the surplus as you cook)
2 Tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
8 round shallots or 6 banana shallots
2 Ribs of celery, cut into thirds
4 Garlic cloves, peeled, whole
6 Preserved anchovy fillets
4 Sprigs of thyme
4 Sprigs of rosemary
2 Bay leaves
1 Tbsp honey
Salt and pepper
(As discussed above, this is just what I had to hand and not a definitive recipe)
5 x Desiree potatoes, peeled and chopped into thirds
2 x Carrots, peeled and diced
2 x Turnips, peeled and diced
1 x Leek, chopped
1/3 Savoy cabbage, shredded
100ml Double cream
Freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper
2 x White chicory, halved vertically
1 Tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
25g Parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
Finely grated zest of ½ an orange
2 gloves of garlic, crushed
Small handful of grated Parmesan
Good grind of black pepper
For the lamb shanks:
Season the lamb shanks with a little salt and pepper.
Boil a kettle, put the peeled, whole garlic cloves in a small bowl and cover with boiling water.
Heat a deep casserole dish on medium/high with 1 Tbsp of the oil and brown the seasoned shanks on all sides. I used a 20cm Le Creuset which fitted the shanks snugly. Shanks aren’t uniform and your browning probably won’t be either, but try to get a little colour where you can. Remove the shanks to a plate to rest.
Add another Tbsp of oil to the casserole dish and lower the heat to medium/low. Peel the shallots, pay attention to keeping the root as intact as you can, ideally you want them to stay whole throughout the cooking process. Add them to the casserole dish until starting to take on colour along with the celery. Drain the garlic cloves and add to the shallots and celery until they begin to take a little colour. Add the anchovy fillets, herbs and bay leaves to the dish, stir until the anchovies have dissolved in the oil.
Add the Hoegaarden to the dish gradually. Stir well to amalgamate, but gently enough that you don’t break up the shallots. Return the lamb shanks to the dish along with a good grind of pepper. Ideally the shanks will be entirely submerged in the liquid, if not add a little water Lower the heat to the most gentle simmer, partially cover and cook for 1.5 hours.
Test the lamb, once it is tender – and depending on your lamb, it’s size and cooking temperature this could take anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours – remove the lamb from the braising liquor and set aside.
Reduce the braising liquor over a medium high heat to your desired consistency and flavour – taste for seasoning throughout and adjust accordingly. Salt may not be necessary due to the anchovies. Add the honey a little at a time only if necessary to round out the flavour. I don’t feel the need to reduce this too much.
Once the sauce is at your desired consistency place the lamb shanks backs in the pan and cover to keep warm.
For the Stoemp:
Boil the potatoes until tender, drain and mash.
Melt half (25g) of the butter over a medium/low heat in a saucepan large enough to ultimately accommodate all of the Stoemp ingredients. When the butter is foaming add the diced carrots and turnips along with a splash of water and a pinch of salt and pepper, cover with a lid and gently simmer for 5 mins. Add the leek and cabbage and simmer for a further 3 mins.
Taste to make sure each of the veg is cooked through.
Add the mashed potatoes to the rest of the vegetables, along with the remaining 25g butter, 100ml of double cream and a grating of nutmeg, roughly mash and season to taste.
For the Chicory:
Heat a frying pan over a medium/low heat with a Tbsp of oil.
Season the cut side of the chicory halves with salt and pepper and place, cut side down, in the frying pan.
Don’t fiddle! Leave to begin to caramelise, gently. Carefully flip on to their backs, try to keep the shape intact and get a little colour.
Add the Tbsp of honey and vinegar to the pan and cook for a further 30 seconds, flip on the cut side once more and remove from the heat.
For the Gremolata:
Combine all of the ingredients as described and mix well.
Assemble the dish!
In deep bowls add a couple of serving spoons of the Stoemp. Use the base of the spoon to make a well in the centre of the Stoemp. Spoon some of the garlic, celery and shallots from the lamb shank braising liquor into the well and top with a shank, bone protruding proudly aloft. Spoon over some of the braising liquor and remaining shallots/garlic as desired.
Add two halves of the chicory to each bowl as prettily as you can.
Sprinkle a Tbsp or two of the Gremolata over the lamb and serve.
P.S. – The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed there is no Chicory in the picture at the top of this post, that is because the shops had sold out and I had to substitute with courgettes at the time. However the following day I managed to get some Chicory to go with the leftovers and it was an infinitely better/balanced dish!