Braised Lamb Shanks & Barley Risotto

Braised Lamb Shanks and Barley Risotto

This recipe is by Chef Joachim Splichal, and was featured on the PBS show “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs”. While these lamb shanks are great for entertaining, they also keep and reheat well so you can easily get at least two dinners out of this recipe. I usually have my butcher cut the lamb shanks for me, as it saves me a little bit of prep time.

Serves 4-6, with Barley Risotto.

• 3 hind shanks of lamb, cut in half crosswise (3¼ to 3½ pounds total)
• Salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• All-purpose flour (for dredging the lamb)
• 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 medium leek, trimmed and quartered, white and green parts, coarsely chopped
• 2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
• 1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
• 1 extra-large shallot or 2 medium-sized shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled, crushed
• A little more unsalted butter, if needed
• 5 or 6 plum tomatoes (or several regular tomatoes), unpeeled, halved & quartered
• 2 big sprigs of fresh thyme
• A bay leaf
• Sprigs of fresh parsley leaves

For the Braising Liquid and the Sauce:
• 5 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
• 1 cup veal stock or an additional cup of chicken stock
• ½ cup dry white wine or dry white French vermouth
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Suggested Special Equipment:
• A heavy 7- to 8-quart covered casserole, such as an oval one 12 x 9 x 5 inches, or a heavy, wide 8-quart ovenproof saucepan with cover
• Tongs
• A strainer
• A 2½ quart saucepan (for the final sauce)
• A warm platter (preferably an oval one), for serving
Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Browning the Lamb:
Salt and pepper the lamb shanks on both sides, dredge in the flour, and pat off excess. Set the casserole over moderately high heat, and when hot, swirl in just enough butter to film the bottom. As the butter foam subsides, lay in the lamb shanks and sauté, turning often with tongs, until all the pieces are quite evenly browned on all sides—this will take a good 10 minutes of careful work. Remove the casserole from heat, set the shanks on a side dish, and with paper towels pat up excess fat from the bottom of the casserole, but leave a film of fat for the vegetables to come. Return it to the burner to moderate heat.
Browning the Aromatic Vegetables:
Stir the onion, leek, carrots, celery, shallot and garlic into the casserole and add another tablespoon of butter if there is not enough fat to coat them. Sauté, stirring frequently, for several minutes, until they are lightly browned; then stir in the tomatoes. Raise heat to moderately high, add the thyme and bay leaf, and cook for 4 minutes more, stirring frequently, until all vegetables are softened and the tomatoes have rendered their juices. Return the browned shanks to the casserole.
Braising the Lamb Shanks:
Pour on the chicken stock, veal stock, and wine,adding a little more stock if the liquid does not quite cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer on the top of the stove, then cover and set in the preheated 350° F oven. Smaller pieces will take a little less time to cook, while the meatier ones may take almost 2 hours. Check occasionally—the liquid should be simmering slowly throughout the cooking.
When is It Done?
The shanks are done when the meat is tender if pierced with a fork, and it can be pulled cleanly away from the bone.
Degreasing the Braising Liquid:
Remove the lamb shanks to their side dish, cover with foil and keep warm. Strain the contents of the casserole into a clean saucepan, pressing hard on the ingredients to extract every drop of liquid; discard the solids. Using a ladle or a large spoon, skim any visible fat off the surface of the liquid, which will be the basis for the sauce.
*Ahead-of-Time Note:
The recipe may be completed a day or two in advance to this point. Return the lamb shanks and skimmed braising liquid to the casserole, and, when cool, cover and refrigerate. Before continuing, cover the casserole and simmer slowly for 5 minutes or so, until the meat is thoroughly warmed, then remove the lamb shanks, and keep warm; pour the sauce into its pan.
Finishing the Dish and Serving:
Set the braising liquid over high heat to reduce it by half, frequently skimming any accumulated fat off the surface. Taste carefully, and adjust seasoning as needed. Just before serving, remove from heat and swirl in the butter, which will smooth and lightly thicken the sauce. Mound the risotto (recipe to follow) in the center of a warm platter, arrange the lamb shanks on top, and ladle the sauce over the meat. Scatter on the parsley leaves and serve.
Barley Risotto
This recipe uses “pearled” barley, meaning the kernel has been husked and thus cooks in about 20 minutes. Be sure to keep your reserved stock warm while preparing the risotto- this will prevent temperature fluctuations during cooking, which will help the barley absorb the liquid better. Serves 4-6.

For the Barley:
  • 3 to 8 tablespoons (1½ to 4 ounces) unsalted butter (1 tablespoon for the initial cooking, 2 tablespoons for the aromatic vegetables, plus up to 5 tablespoons more for finishing the risotto)
  • ¼ cup finely diced onion
  • 1 cup dry white wine or dry white French vermouth
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) pearled barley
  • 1 quart hot chicken stock, plus more as needed
Aromatic vegetable flavoring:
  • 2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped (¼ cup)
  • 1 medium leek, white and tender green parts, finely diced (½ cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced (½cup)

For Finishing:

  • 1-½ ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ½ cup)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh curly parsley
Suggested Special Equipment:
A 5- to 6-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan with lid
A 10-inch frying pan
Cooking the Barley:
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the saucepan over moderately high heat. Stir in the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, for 4 to 6 minutes, or until it is nicely browned and caramelized. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the wine and stirring all around the bottom and sides to loosen and incorporate the flavorful brown bits. Simmer the wine for a moment until it is reduced by half, then stir in the barley and continue stirring slowly for 2 minutes. Pour in enough chicken stock just to cover the barley, and bring to the simmer. Maintain uncovered and at the simmer for 22 to 25 minutes, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until the barley is tender and fully cooked. Add more stock as the liquid evaporates.

Sautéing the Aromatic Vegetables:
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the frying pan and stir in the finely diced shallots, leeks and carrots. Sauté over moderately high heat for a minute or two, until just cooked through, then stir them into the barley and let them simmer together for just a moment to blend the flavors.

*Ahead-of-Time Note:
May be cooked as much as a day in advance to this point. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, still covered, over simmering water, stirring frequently.

Finishing the Risotto:
Remove the pan from heat and immediately stir in the Parmesan cheese, then, tablespoon by tablespoon, the final butter—the amount is up to you; I fold it all in. Taste carefully for seasoning and fold in the parsley.