Lamb Shanks with Preserved Lemons and Gremolata

This is something we actually made while still in Hawaii during the middle of our move. Although it takes some initial prep to trim and brown the lamb shanks, most of the cooking can be done in a slow cooker while you tend to the rest of your life. This recipe was devised to put to use two key ingredients we had in the pantry: lamb shanks and preserved lemons. This is an incredibly hearty meal better suited for cold winter months — guess we’ll have to make it again once our newest batch of preserved lemons is ready in 4 weeks.

Lemons and red wine may sound like a strange combination for braising meat, but they marry together beautifully in this dish. The recipe is adapted from one we’ve used before using fresh lemons (original recipe). The preserved lemons keep a true lemon flavor even after long cooking, while the gremolata brightens the flavors as you savor every mouthful. We found the combination really exquisite, and this will be our go-to recipe from here on out.

Gremolata is a classic Italian garnish for osso bucco, and is just a quick mince of fresh parsley, garlic and lemon peel. This is best done just before serving to keep the flavors of the garlic and lemon peel fresh. It is an unbeatable way to brighten flavors of long-simmered stews or braised meats.

Serves 2 persons
To prepare 4 shanks, double everything except the 2 TBL oil for browning (keep same amount), and the balsamic vinegar (use 1/3 cup)

Lamb Shanks
1 large onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3 TBL olive oil + 2 TBL olive oil for browning
2 lamb shanks
1 cup dry red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 pieces of preserved lemon, to equal 1 lemon
remove pulp and thinly slice rind
6-8 sprigs fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Pour 3 TBL. of oil into bottom of slow cooker, layer with onions and bay leaves. Turn heat on slow cooker to LOW, cover and trim lamb.

Trim lamb shanks by removing excess fat and membrane surrounding meat. Then cut (update 11/24/08: but do not remove) the tendon that connects meat to top of the bone — it’s easier to trim the fat and membrane while the tendon is still attached, so leave the tendon for last.

Brown the shanks well in a heavy bottomed skillet, then transfer them to slow cooker as they finish browning. Pour off the fat, add garlic and cook just until garlic are fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn the heat up to high, and immediately pour red wine into the skillet to de-glaze. Stir to bring up the browned bits in the pan. Boil for about 1 minute, then pour deglazing liquid over lamb.

Sprinkle lemons and oregano over and around shanks, then pour balsamic vinegar and diced tomatoes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Cover and leave on LOW for 7-8 hours or until meal is fall-off-the -bone tender. Or you can layer everything instead in a heavy dutch oven and place in the preheated oven (325F/160C) to cook for 3 hours.

Before serving, remove shanks from sauce and keep warm. Cook sauce on HIGH in slow cooker with no cover to reduce sauce while you prepare the Gremolata and polenta.

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, washed well and dried
Peel from one fresh lemon
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

With a very sharp knife, finely mince parsley and place in a bowl. Combine lemon peel and sliced garlic on cutting board, and mince together. Add minced lemon-garlic to parsley and mix well. Serve with lamb shanks.

To serve, spoon creamy polenta onto plate. Place one shank over polenta, spoon sauce over lamb, and sprinkle gremolata over. Serve extra gremolata at the table.

See also: Learning to make preserved lemons at home (all you need are lemons, coarse salt and oil. And time.)
Other recipes with preserved lemons: Chicken with Preserved Lemons & Olives, Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon & Sage and Preserved Lemon & Almond Polenta Torta (cake).