When lamb-shanks are done well, there can be few things to rival them. The lamb should be unctuously tender, and fall from the bone at the merest suggestion of a fork. Although the meat should be meltingly soft on the inside; that tenderness is countered by a thick, stickily-glazed crust. Succulent, brown, & caramelised is what we’re aiming for. The only word is mouth-watering!
Because lamb is so rich, I always tend to accompany it with ‘plainer’ vegetables. Whatever you use needs to provide a sharp contrast in texture with the softness of the meat; al dente cabbage is both seasonal and incredibly fresh-tasting, to counter out the depth of the lamb.
One trick with lamb is that it requires a generous amount of salt. To provide this, and equally introduce a third and final flavour to round off the other two; I’ve added blue cheese. This gives the dish that all important ‘saltiness’; yet is strong enough to hold its own against the lamb and cooked greens. Be careful not to choose a ‘blue’ which goes runny with heat (e.g. Gorgonzola). We don’t want the cabbage to be swimming in cream-sauce (that would compromise its freshness). Instead, we want little ‘taste-explosions’, so that the cheese doesn’t over-power the dish; rather ‘punctuate’ it.
I used a local cheese ‘Binham Blue’, which is artisan-made and has that slightly ‘chewy bite’ which doesn’t crumble or turn to liquid. For a blue-cheese, the taste is ripe & robust, but also mellow & delicate. I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in these parts. Any blue you like will be fine however; as long as you bear in mind how the texture will respond to heat.
Start by seasoning your shanks. Seal these on a high heat until the surface starts to brown. Add a sliced onion and continue to seal in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Bring back to the hob and turn your oven right down to low (140-150º max). Deglaze the pan with a little port or red wine, then add a bayleaf, chopped herbs and a small amount of water. Place the lid firmly on the pan and roast in the slow-oven for ideally three hours. At this point, remove the lid and check the meat for tenderness by ‘nudging it’ with your spoon. The bone should have retracted by one quarter of the original and the meat should ‘threaten’ to fall off the bone if moved. Sprinkle a final amount of seasoning on the meat, then back into a hot oven with the lid off the pan for 20 minutes to ‘crisp up’ on top.
Meanwhile shred your cabbage. Steam for 5 minutes until tender but still with bite. Season, sprinkle in chopped herbs, then your diced cheese. A small knob of butter or ‘shake’ of oil with give the cabbage a shine and keep it glossy. Keep the stirring to a minimum to preserve the shape of the cheese, then pile up in the middle of your serving-plate. I like to add a small squeeze of lime to lift the cabbage.
Take your shanks out of the oven and position each one atop its cabbage-bed. Drizzle a few of the pan-juices around the bowl then voila! Dinner is served.
I needn’t tell you how good this is – you must try it yourself! The dish is suitable for a ketogenic-diet (LCHF), but also diabetics and gluten-intolerants. There’s no excuse therefore; everyone can get stuck in with gusto! And they’ll all agree it was worth the wait!
Thanks for reading and bon ap!