Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the hottest chef in Boston was Todd English. He initially had two restaurants in Charlestown, where he and his family lived. Figs was the more casual pizza place that my friend Leah and I loved and frequented on our girls nights out. Olives, however, was the flagship and the most difficult place to secure a table in it’s heyday. People would line up in hopes of getting a table, as it they didn’t take reservations. When Dennis and I were first dating and he was in town for a weekend while I was still living in the Boston area, we decided to try our luck to see if we could get in. Fortunately for us, my brother Gary lived right up the street at the time, so we were able to walk over and successfully get our name on the list and then go back to his place to hang out for the several hours wait for our table. The signature dish was the Braised Lamb Shanks, which was what I ordered and they were delicious.
I had the opportunity to meet Todd at a book signing for the release of his cookbook “The Figs Table”. My friend Leah had already given me that book for my birthday, so I decided to buy his previously released “The Olives Table”. As I flipped through the pages awaiting my turn to meet Todd and have my book signed, I was delighted to see the recipe for the lamb shanks I had enjoyed at that dinner with Dennis just a few weeks before. As my turn approached, I’m sure I was star struck, as it was like meeting a celebrity for me as a fledgling foodie, but I was taken aback by his brusqueness and lack of interest in engaging. Perhaps he was uncomfortable out of his element in the kitchen and irritated by the need to signed hundreds or more books for the long line of excited fans. In any event, I left a bit deflated at the thought that he was rather arrogant and had become rather taken with himself as a result of a steady diet of rave reviews and accolades. Perhaps I wasn’t off, as his popularity was soaring and he was in the midst of creating his restaurant “empire”, opening Olives in Las Vegas, New York and multiple international locations along with developing other concepts. Sadly the time away from Olives in Charlestown took its toll and the quality suffered. After several closures due to citations by the Health Department and no fewer than 3 fires, Olives in Charlestown closed for good in 2013.
But I digress . . . I have made the Ginger Braised Lamb Shanks from “The Olives Table”, and while delicious, I have tweaked things over the years. When we decided to host our first dinner party following our move to Houston, I wanted to do something Mediterranean that could largely be made ahead that would minimize the amount of time at the stove so that I could visit with our guests. My favorite store, Central Market had beautiful looking lamb shanks from Colorado, so thought this might be the perfect dish, especially given the weather had turned chilly, ideal for a hearty braised dish. Lamb can be very polarizing, people either love it or hate it, so I did a quick pulse check with our guests and I was in luck, everyone liked lamb. The verdict was “delicious” and I hope you’ll agree. A fantastic Bordeaux from St Emilion, heavy with merlot, is a perfect pairing.
MEDITERRANEAN BRAISED LAMB SHANKS
- Dutch Oven
- Lamb Shanks
- 1/2 Cup Olive Oil estra virgin
- 2 Cups Onions, thinly sliced 1 very large or 2 medium onions
- 2 Cups Fennel (Anise), cored & thinly sliced 1 large or 2 medium bulbs
- 6 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Ginger, minced Peel & mince in a small food processor
- 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
- 3/4 Cup Red Wine
- 1/2 tsp Fennel Seeds
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 tsp Cumin ground
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt Morton's
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper freshly ground
- 4 Cups Beef Stock or Broth
- 2-4 Cups Chicken Stock or Broth
- 1 Can Fire Roasted Tomatoes, including juice 29 ounces
- 1 Can Chick Peas, drained 29 ounces
- 3 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
- Allow the lamb shanks to come to room temperature (about 30-45 minutes before you are ready to cook) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Measure the spices out into a small ramekin or a cup.
- Heat 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large Dutch Oven over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides, being careful not to burn, reducing the heat if necessary. Lamb has a lot of fat and creates a lot of smoke, so be sure to use your exhaust fan.
- Remove the shanks from the pan and place on a plate/platter.
- Wipe the pan clean with a paper towel, being careful not to burn yourself.
- Preheat your oven to 300* (or 275* on convection, which I prefer). Set your oven racks to the lower third, ensuring there is room for your Dutch Oven (you may need to remove a rack).
- Add the remaining 2 TBSP of oil to the pan and return to medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until just softened.
- Add the ginger and garlic and stir for 1 minute, making sure not to let the garlic burn.
- Add the spice mixture and mix well.
- Add the Balsamic Vinegar and Wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and allow to reduce by about half.
- Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chick peas and 4 cups of beef stock and 2 cups of chicken stock.
- Return the shanks to the pan and spoon the vegetables over them so they are nestled into the liquid and vegetables. If there is not enough liquid to cover the shanks fully, add another 2 cups of chicken stock, or a bit more if necessary.
- Add the Rosemary sprigs. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.
- Place the pot in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 3 hours until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones.
- Serve with Mashed Potatoes and ladle the vegetables over the top.
- I prefer Colorado lamb, it is much milder in flavor than Australia or New Zealand lamb and may convert those that recall the gamey lamb of their childhoods. It’s worth sourcing.
- Lamb shanks are relatively inexpensive, so provide a great dish without breaking the bank. If you don’t see them at your butcher, ask, as they may have them in back, often frozen.
- I like to use a large oval Le Creuset Dutch Oven when I’m making 4-6 lamb shanks.
- I like the Muir Glen brand of Fire Roasted Tomatoes. You don’t need organic, but sometimes that’s all I can find.