Baaahhhh…Smoky Ancho Lamb Shanks

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Most people I know find a recipe and then seek out the ingredients.  Unfortunately for my overstuffed mish-mashed pantry, I do not fall into that category.  I guess I’ve got a reverse approach when it comes to cooking and grocery shopping.  More often than not, a trip to a new or ethnic grocery store will result in a cart full of cool and interesting ingredients I’ve never even heard of or tried.  I then find myself thinking…‘How the heck do I use this?’. This exact thought led me to making these lamb shanks.

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A month ago, I stumbled upon these dried, leathery, blackened ancho chilies at the St. Lawrence Market.  I had certainly never cooked with them before but I could literally smell their smoky heat right through the packaging…I just had to buy them.

My recipe below is slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe and his original recipe can be found here.

I served my version of this recipe on a bed of couscous and some thinly sliced and sautéed garlicky cabbage although it would be equally delicious on a bed of creamy polenta.

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Smoky Ancho Lamb Shanks

Pairing: We served this dish with a California Cabernet Sauvignon.  We were looking for a wine that was big enough to stand up to the smokiness of the lamb and with enough tannins to balance off the sweetness of the sauce.

Ingredients:

  •  3 smoked ancho chilies
  • 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes, optional
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup apple juice, warm
  • 1/2 cup coffee, warm
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 4 lamb shanks, Frenched (Ask your butcher to do this.  This will allow the cooked meat to pull neatly away from the bone making it easier to eat and great for presentation)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium red onions, finely chopped (I only had 2 so I used a yellow one)
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely sliced (you read right, an entire head of garlic)
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 rosemary sprigs or 2 tsp dried
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups chicken stock or white wine, divided
  • A dash of Balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Warm the apple juice and coffee and pour over the chili pepper flakes (if using), ancho chilies and raisins.  Cover and set aside to let them soften.

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Preheat the oven to 450°F. Season lamb with 1 Tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper.  Place onto a baking tray or rack and roast for 25 minutes until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

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Place a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven on stove over medium, add the remaining olive oil and sweat off the onions and garlic for 15 minutes.

Remove the stem from each of the chilies.  Puree the soaked ancho chilies and raisins with the steeping liquid in a blender or with a hand held blender.

Add puree, tomatoes, half the stock and Bourbon to the pot along with the spices and herbs.  Bring to a gentle simmer and lower the shanks along with any accumulated juices back into the pot.

Cover and return to the oven for 3 hours, checking and stirring every 45 minutes or so.  If the sauce looks a bit dry, add a small amount of stock.

Skim off the oil.  Taste the sauce and if necessary, add a dash of Balsamic vinegar to balance the flavors and adjust seasoning.

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The shanks should be fork tender and pull away from the bone easily.

Serves 4

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Note:

Frenching your lamb shanks not only makes for a beautiful presentation but also makes it easier for your guests to eat.  To do this yourself at home.  Insert a paring knife between the bone and seniew on the non-meaty side of the shank (if you imagine holding the shank like a drum stick, it would be the part you are holding onto) and pull the seniew and tendon away from the bone.  Using the sharp edge of your knife, scrape and push the seniew down to expose about 1/4 of the bone.  For a gluten-free option, serve this on rice or creamy polenta.

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