Lamb Shank Stew Recipe – The New York Times
This simple stew, made with lamb shanks, barley, greens and a big pile of onions, didn’t come about through planning, but rather through circumstance.
As often happens when I shop with my 4-year-old daughter, Alicia, we arrived at our home in Seattle with a pile of ingredients and no real plan. Recently, that pile included lamb shanks, and a five-pound bag of onions.
Lamb shanks are best braised, and a bag of onions always reminds me of soupe à l’oignon, French onion soup, (a favorite of my wife, Adri), so combining those ideas seemed natural. And it’s something I learned from my old chef Jason Bond. In 2002, he was chef de cuisine at No. 9 Park in Boston, where he had me slowly stir onions over low heat until they were a deep, sticky brown. We deglazed them with red wine and roasted veal stock, then added seared beef short ribs and cooked the whole thing just under a simmer until the meat was tender enough to cut with a spoon and the broth reduced into a rich, glossy sauce.
At home, Alicia and I started by preheating the oven, then seasoned the lamb shanks with salt and pepper, and seared them in the bottom of a Dutch oven. As the shanks browned, I sliced the onions — as well as a few leeks from the refrigerator — while Alicia pounded the garlic in her mortar and pestle. (Crushing garlic has been her domain ever since she was strong enough to lift the pestle on her own.)
Once the lamb was seared, I set aside the shanks and added the onions and leeks (as well as some finely diced carrots) to the pot as Alicia stirred. Her attention span doesn’t allow for an hour of slow-stirring, so I had to deviate a bit from Jason’s technique.
That was OK. Despite what many recipes insist, onions need not be cooked until jamlike and sticky-sweet to make excellent soup. I’ve been making Jacques Pépin’s Lyonnaise-style version for years, a recipe that calls for only 20 minutes of cooking on the stovetop. Part of the secret is that the soup is simmered once the stock is added, then transferred to crocks and baked uncovered in the oven, allowing the top layer of onion-rich broth to caramelize more deeply. As you eat it, those darker layers mix with the lighter broth underneath, adding sweetness and complexity to each bite.
We took a similar tack with our stew: After just 20 minutes of sautéing, we added garlic and tomato paste to the onions (this adds body to the finished sauce), deglazed with red wine and stock (store-bought chicken stock, because I am not crazy enough to make roasted veal stock at home). Then, we nestled the lamb shanks back in the broth with a sprig of rosemary before transferring the pot to the oven with the lid cracked.
After a couple of hours, I stirred in some pearled barley and spinach greens languishing in the fridge. (Alicia had disappeared by this point, so she had no say in the matter.) Then, I let it all continue cooking until the barley was done, and the lamb was just tender enough to pull from the bone.
The finished stew, with its savory-sweet aroma and one-pot appeal, was a big enough hit with family and cooks that we made a similar stew a week later, with short ribs in place of lamb, then again with kale in place of the spinach. (In the name of science, I made this last batch with onions that I fully caramelize for an hour before deglazing. It was deliciously sweet and aromatic; different, though not better.)
You could do the same, but if I may make a suggestion: Whenever you’re cooking a slow braise in the oven, make it a point to leave the house for a 10-minute walk around the block so that you can open the door and breathe in the aroma with a fresh nose.