As the weather cools here in Midcoast Maine, and the silence of Autumn is broken only by the groan of the oil furnace cycling on, taking the edge off the chill of an October evening, our thoughts inevitably begin to turn to heavier, heartier meals. There’s something about the smell of woodsmoke in the neighborhood, combined with the crazy kaleidoscope of color that signals the changing season in the Northeast, that makes me start craving big cuts of meat, slow-cooked in stews or braises. Because, really, is there anything more pornographic in the world of home cooking than braised beef or lamb? Slow-cooked until impossibly tender, it sits atop a pile of mashed potatoes or parsnips, barely able to hold itself together, until you drag a fork through it, breaking the meat into delicate shreds of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, spilling a reduction of pan sauce, port, and mushroom in its wake. Transforming tough cuts of beef or lamb into a flavorful, fall-apart braise this way is true kitchen alchemy, and when thoughts of all of those combining flavors and textures get in your head, they’re impossible to shake.
Here, we asked our butcher to cut two gigantic lamb shanks in half, before slow cooking them for hours in a combination of red white, port, and balsamic, with plenty of onion, garlic, and mushrooms for good measure. The braising liquid reduces into a slightly sweet sauce, which balances the strong flavors of the lamb beautifully. We serve ours over fluffy mashed potatoes, which come with no recipe other than this: Boil two pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, leaving the skins on. Continue to add butter and cream like a boss until you juuuuuuuust start to feel bad about yourself, then mash with salt and pepper, and serve.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Port and Mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 large bone-in lamb shanks (about 2.5 pounds total)
- 1 onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms
- 4 ounces mixed exotic mushrooms (any combination of cremini, shitake, and oyster mushrooms)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cups port wine
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1-1/2 cups beef stock
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small bunch fresh thyme
- 1 small bunch fresh rosemary
- 1 small bunch fresh parsley
Add oil to large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add lamb shanks, and brown on all sides. Transfer to plate and set aside.
Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, butter, and sugar to pan, and cook until onions begin to brown slightly. Add red wine, scraping any burned bits off the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to high, and allow red wine to cook off almost completely.
Return lamb shanks to pan, and add port wine, balsamic, beef stock, and brown sugar. Using kitchen twine, tie thyme, rosemary, and fresh parsley into a bunch, and add to pan, along with bay leaves.
Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook, simmering, until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, about 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes. If desired, braising liquid can be thickened with a mixture of equal part cornstarch and water, added a little at a time as pot simmers.