Hearty and satisfying braised lamb shanks make a perfect winter dinner for two, but if you’re in the mood for an intimate gathering of friends, it’s easy to scale up this recipe with hardly any extra effort. Here’s the secret: it’s made in a slow cooker (sometimes known as a crock pot). Once the initial prep is out of the way, everything goes into the cooker where it simmers quietly on its own for hours, filling the house with the rich, savory aroma of lamb.
Some people think of lamb as heavy or greasy, but it doesn’t have to be. The key lies in straining and defatting the stock; this simple, but important step removes nearly all of the fat, leaving the shanks light in texture, yet tender, succulent and full of rich flavor.
Gone too are the usual drab accompaniments. Lively-tasting, aromatic ingredients, including fresh fennel, fragrant citron, tart lemon and snappy garlic, are the order of the day. Fennel bulb, when cooked, becomes tender and subtly sweet while retaining its characteristic anise-like flavor. Sliced Buddha’s Hand citron “fingers” add more layers of delicate flavor, with notes of sweet citrus and rose petals contributing to the lightness and complexity of the finished dish.
The final, refreshing touch comes from lively and aromatic Buddha’s Hand citron gremolata, a classic condiment bursting with the flavors of fresh parsley, bright citrus and just a hint of garlic. The smell reminds of of newly-cut lawns, budding flowers and fresh breezes – the welcome scent of spring, even as we approach the winter season.
Fennel Braised Lamb Shanks with Buddha’s Hand Gremolata
We used a slow cooker (aka crock pot) to make our lamb shanks, but if you don’t one, just use a large, heavy pot with a tightly fitting lid instead. Braise the lamb on the stovetop on low heat or slip the pot into a 325 F degree oven. Adjust cooking time to 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until the lamb is falling-off-the-bone tender.
- 2 lamb foreshanks, about 1 lb each
- 3 Tbsp olive oil (more as needed)
- all purpose flour for dredging
- 1 large fennel bulb, quartered and sliced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- juice of one lemon
- 1/4 cup Buddha’s Hand Citron, sliced
- 4 cups chicken stock
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 tsp fennel pollen (optional)
- Buddha’s Hand Citron Gremolata (recipe follows)
Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and dredge generously with flour. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb shanks, turning to brown on all sides. Transfer the lamb shanks to a plate.
Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of oil and return the pot to the stove. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the sliced fennel bulb, onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 8 – 10 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom.
Place the browned lamb shanks in the slow cooker and pour the stock/vegetable mixture over the top. Add the sliced buddha’s hand citron and lemon juice and season with a little more salt and pepper. Cover the slow cooker tightly and set to “high.”
When the cooker begins to simmer (time depends on your cooker), reduce the heat to a very low simmer and braise for 3-4 hours or until the meat is very tender.
Lift the lamb shanks with tongs and place on plates or a serving platter. Pour the stock and vegetables through a strainer. Spoon the vegetables around the lamb, cover loosely with foil and keep warm.
De-fat the stock by skimming or using a fat separator. Put the stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Pour over the lamb shanks and vegetables. Top each lamb shank generously with gremolata and pinch of fennel pollen (if using). Serve with additional gremolata on the side.
Make ahead options: This dish can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Let cool completely, then put the lamb, vegetables and stock in separate containers, cover tightly and refrigerate. Rewarm when ready to serve.
Buddha’s Hand Gremolata
Gremolata, a fresh-tasting condiment made of lemon zest, garlic and parsley, is considered the traditional accompaniment to the classic Italian braised veal shank dish osso buco. It’s also wonderful with lamb, adding a burst of freshness and herbaceous/citrus notes that lighten and enhance the slow-braised lamb.
We first chopped, minced or sliced the ingredients separately, then piled them together for a final chop with sea salt to combine them thoroughly and give the gremolata an appealing, uniform texture.
- 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves (preferably flat leaf)
- 3 cloves garlic
- Buddha’s hand citron or 1 fresh Meyer lemon
- 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt
Rinse the parsley and pat dry. Remove the leaves from the stems, enough to make approximately 1 cup.
Chop the parsley coarsely. Chop the garlic finely.
Using a sharp vegetable peeler, remove several long strips of peel from the buddha’s hand (or lemon), enough to make about 1 heaping tablespoon chopped. Slice into thin strips.
Pile the parsley, garlic and citrus zest on the cutting board, sprinkle with the sea salt, and chop together finely. Put in a small bowl and cover tightly until ready to use.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
For even more news, information and recipes, sign up for the free Earthy Delights email newsletter.