Tomorrow is the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake is somewhat less auspicious – a symbol that is sometimes hard to warm up to. And fittingly this Year of the Snake begins with a blizzard in the Northeast, power outages, and extreme weather. Even I, in the Inland Northwest, woke up to snow. So clearly this New Year needs to begin with a hearty dish that will keep you warm as you celebrate. This recipe for red-cooked lamb shanks is taken from a recipe for red-cooked leg of lamb. But as I have mentioned before, I love lamb shanks… the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.
Red-cooking is a Chinese slow-braising technique that is particularly good for tougher cuts of meat. It is a technique popular throughout most of northern, eastern, and southeastern China. The name comes from the dark red-brown color of the meat and sauce. This recipe is not as deep red, as I used reduced sodium soy sauce instead of black soy sauce (you can use black soy sauce if you have it) to make the shanks a bit healthier. Also, these shanks are best made ahead so that you can chill the braising liquid and remove any fat before finishing the sauce.
Despite their potential for deliciousness, lamb shanks are bony and fatty when you first get them.
You don’t have to do anything about the bones – that is what is going to make the shanks so succulent when you eat them. But you do need to remove every bit of fat that you can, and any tough, thin membrane as well. The four lamb shanks yielded almost one pound of trimmed fat and membrane.
Red-Cooked Lamb Shanks
4 lamb shanks, about 12 ounces each
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 cup dry sherry (not cooking sherry)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed dried red chili pepper
2 whole star anise
additional water to cover, if needed
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cold water
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
Trim the lamb shanks of all fat and membrane, and make small gashes all over them. Rub the shanks with the garlic. Spray a large Dutch oven with cooking spray (I used my big covered wok) and heat over high heat. Add the shanks to the pan and brown them on all sides – about 10 minutes. Mix the braising liquid (soy sauce, sherry, sugar, pepper, star anise) together.
Pour over the lamb shanks. If necessary, add enough water to just cover the shanks. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 2½ hours, turning shanks occasionally or until shanks are tender. Keep an eye on them. I had to add a bit more water to keep them from drying out…so check the liquid level when you turn the shanks. When the shanks are done, remove them to a platter.
Pour braising liquid into a container. Refrigerate lamb and braising liquid separately. When liquid has chilled and fat hardened on the surface, remove the fat and discard it. Reheat the shanks in the braising liquid. Remove shanks and keep warm. Measure out 1 cup of the braising liquid, (discard the rest) and bring the one cup of liquid to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl and mix it into the liquid. Cook the sauce, stirring, until it is thickened. Stir in the sesame oil, and pour the sauce over the shanks. Makes 4 servings at about 8 grams of fat/serving
I served them over a brown rice mixture, with lightly stir-fried vegetables on the side.