After having enjoyed a rack of lamb and remembering how much I love lamb, I needed more. This time, I opted for a different cut of meat, one of my favorites: the shank! I wanted to continue experimenting with “darker” sauces paired with lamb, so today, I have a Braised Lamb Shank with Sherry Blackberry Sauce.
This was a very hearty meal. Given the beautiful, spring-time weather, it almost seemed a bit too heavy, but this is also when you get the best lamb, so I got over this dilemma pretty quickly. The meat was fall apart tender, rich in flavor, and infused with the dark flavors of the sauce. The sauce, at a high level, was a reduction of the braising liquid, but there was more to it in addition to the full, hearty flavors imparted by the lamb. The other major players: sherry (but a tawny port would be preferable–I thought I had some handy…woops), paired with the dark, tart flavor of blackberries and a few other savories to push those both a little more forward (e.g. star anise). it was full bodied, earthy, tannic, dark, smokey, fruity–just a lot of complex, exciting flavors that made for a really delicious result.
- olive oil
- 1 ~2.5 lb lamb shank (this could feed two people)
- Spice rub
- ground chipotle
- fennel seeds
- ground thyme
- celery seed
- ground mint
- 2 shallots
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stalk
- 5 cardamom pods
- 4 cups chicken stock
- small handful mint leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup port/sherry
- whole cloves
- 1 star anise
- whole peppercorns
- 2 cups blackberries
Begin with the spice rub. Simply mix the dry spices in a bowl to taste–this is an area where I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to measurements. Make oregano, fennel, thyme, and mint the stars of the show. Rub this all over the lamb shank well,
With the shank well seasoned, get some oil nice and hot in a dutch oven that is just large enough to hold all of your meat. I started with what I would normally use, but since I was cooking less (as in quantity) than usual, you’ll notice a smaller dutch oven came into player in later photos. 😉 Anyways, the oil is hot, so brown the shank on all sides and then set this aside.
So now, onto the rest of the braising process: the broth! Gather the veggies and spices.
Dice the celery, carrot, and shallot finely and sauté for about 8 or so minutes, adding finely diced garlic for another minute or two. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Now, deglaze the pan with the wine (I used sherry since that’s what I had available) and scrape up all of those tasty brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Then, add in the stock, mint leaves, and dry spices (I slit the cardamom pods open before throwing into the pot). Give this a good stir to mix it up and return the browned lamb shank to the pot, doing your best to submerge as much of it as you can in the liquid.
Raise the temperature to get this actively bubbling, and then turn off the heat, cover, and transfer this to the oven for about 2.5 hours or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone fork tender. Turn the shank over once or twice during this period to ensure all sides of the meat have equal time submerged in the braising liquid.
While you wait, you have ample time to finish the prep for the sauce. Begin by pureeing and straining the blackberries. I don’t mind the seeds on pretty much any fruit except for blackberries–those seeds just have an incredibly annoying quality about them in your mouth, so strain well so as to get all the juice and none of the seeds. Set the juice aside–the rest of the sauce comes when the braising is done (since we’re using the braising liquid).
Once the lamb is cooked and is done with the oven, remove the shank from the pot and set aside somewhere to keep it warm. Pour the braising liquid through a strainer to remove all of the solids in the liquid (e.g. whole spices, any scraps of meat, etc).
Be careful straining all of this as the liquid is obviously quite hot! With the back of a spoon, press the solids to help squeeze all of that liquidy goodness through as you want every last bit of that flavor in your sauce. Boil this mixture hard for about 5-10 minutes to reduce it to a more saucy consistency and during this, mix in the strained blackberry puree from earlier. Also, recall that lamb shank has a good bit of fat on it, so during all of this braising, a lot of that is now in your sauce (which is a part of what makes it taste so darn good). While boiling, you should be able to skim the surface along the outer perimeter of your pot to remove some of the excess fat from the surface periodically.
Once time is up, take the sauce off of the heat and get to plating. I served with a side of mashed potatoes. I also spared a few blackberries from the food processor for the sake of garnish, so during the last minute or two of reducing the sauce, I added them into the sauce to just briefly cook them into submission. Plus, just look at sexy they turned out.
Lay the shank attractively over the mashed potatoes (hooray for an easily sculpted side-dish!) and ladle some sauce all about, adding the cooked blackberries to bring it all together with a few chives for a little color contrast on the plate.