Using a slow cooker to make delicious braised lamb shanks

Tender, flavoursome braised lamb shanks make a wonderful winter meal. Easy to prepare, they simply need slow, gentle cooking to release their succulence. A slow cooker is an ideal way to cook them…or you can simmer them in the oven.

Lamb shanks are sometimes called lamb foreshanks or lamb drumsticks

Frenched shanks are trimmed lamb shanks, the bone is shorter and the bone scraped clean (a bonus is they look much more elegant when cooked).

If the lamb shanks are large ask the butcher to cut them in half, it makes them easier to fit in the slow cooker or baking dish. The bonus of halving the shanks is that it also helps release the flavour from the bones. It’s best to cut them in half but leave them still attached (into elbow-like pieces).

To store lamb shanks

Remove from plastic wrap or bag and then place onto a plate in a single layer, cover loosely with foil to stop the meat sweating. Place in the meat compartment or on the bottom shelf and use within a day or two of purchase.

Removing some of the fat

If you’d like to remove some of the fat from lamb shanks, try this tip. Freezing the lamb shanks for a short time firms up the fat a little, making it easier to scrape it away. Half an hour in the freezer is all they need and then you’ll be able to scrape with ease. Once you have done this however, you cannot re-freeze them without cooking them first.

Ingredients to cook with lamb shanks

  • Vegetables such as carrots and parsnips and onions and leeks are good flavour partners for lamb, and they also stand up well to the long slow cooking time. Cut them the same size so they cook evenly.
  • Robust, aromatic herbs like fresh rosemary, bay leaf and thyme are good choices as like the lamb they slowly release their rich flavour as they cook.
  • Beef stock, wine and canned tomatoes are all good liquids. A good spoonful of tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce will add a flavour boost too.

To get the best tasting lamb shanks sear them first so they are well browned and then slow cook

Taking the time to brown the lamb shanks before cooking (just as you do for casserole recipes) intensifies the flavour of your dish.

Lamb shanks can be difficult to brown because of their bony shape. Oven roasting or browning them over a barbecue grill can make it a bit easier. Or you can lightly flour them and pan-sear. Whatever method you choose, brown them well on all sides.

More tips...

  • Check the recipe booklet that came with your particular slow cooker, find a recipe that’s similar to how you like to cook your lamb shanks and use it as a guide. The most important rule is that you ensure the food and/or liquid fills at least half to three quarters of the removable bowl that sits in the slow cooker.
  • The high and low settings on the slow cooker mean you have the option to cook dishes in around 4 to 5 hours (High) or the longer option of 8 to 10 hours (Low). Little or no stirring is required when using the Low setting, however stirring the casserole occasionally when using the High setting gives good flavour distribution.

Converting a regular recipe for the slow cooker

As a general guide 1 hour of simmering on the cooktop or in the oven equates to about 5-6 hours on low or 2-2.5 hours on high in a slow cooker.

Since there is little evaporation when cooking with a slow cooker, you may need to reduce the amount of liquid which may be called for in a regular recipe. Reduce the liquid by a cup or two. Flour or cornflour is often used to thicken dished cooked in the slow cooker for the same reason.

Other lamb cuts for using in the slow cooker: diced lamb forequarter chops, neck chops, leg bone in, easy carve leg or shoulder, leg boned and rolled, boned and rolled lamb shoulder.

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