Spring is the best time to make lamb dishes and lamb shanks, cut from the lower leg is a great cut of meat for braising or slow cooking; they tend to have little fat and lots of connective tissue. Braising allows that tissue to break down and produce rich, succulent tasting and very tender meat that is falling off the bone so you really cannot overcook them. The most important step is to really brown the shanks well. Don’t rush this step because this is the key to locking in flavor and making them finger licking good. Make sure you have plenty of napkins ready.
This type of slow cooking is a great way to think ahead for any type of gathering because the dish can be cooked two days in advance and just reheated slowly. Double the recipe to serve more.
Oven Braised Lamb Shanks
6 cups tomato sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
4 meaty lamb shanks (about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
Dried red pepper flakes to taste
3/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup tomato paste
Salt to taste
5 large fresh basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 325F
Heat the olive oil in an oven to table casserole dish or baking pan large enough to hold the lamb shanks. When the oil is hot, add the shanks and brown them evenly on all sides a few at a time. Transfer them to a dish. Discard all but 1/3 cup of the oil remaining in the pan. Add the garlic to the pan and cook over medium-low heat until golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the garlic and discard it. Add the onion to the pan and cook over medium-low heat until they are are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the hot pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium- high; pour in the wine and allow most of it to evaporate, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste with a wooden spoon and scrape up any bits of meat that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Return the lamb shanks to the pan and cover them with the tomato sauce, Cover the dish and bake for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is fork tender.