Apache Junction We have been to New Zealand twice: the first trip we covered parts of the North and a few areas of the South Island — and didn’t feel like we’d seen nearly enough. Two years later we returned and spent two weeks in the South Island and this time we knew the ropes and decided to do things a little differently. We rented a Mauri camper van for travel and lodging, staying in motels only two times. The campgrounds were not crowded and featured nice bathrooms with showers, washers and dryers and hook ups for electricity and sewage as well. Oddly we did not see even one other American in the campgrounds!
I make no apologies for the fact that I love lamb – lamb shanks, lamb stews, ground lamb, lamb chops, leg of lamb. And New Zealand is the “Land of Sheep” – they are everywhere and so it made great sense that lamb shank was on the menu of every single pub we visited. I venture to say that during our trip we had lamb shanks at casual eateries at least five times a week. Each preparation was different but I cannot tell you that any of the dishes were less than wonderful. In New Zealand, shanks are traditionally served with various vegetables and a heap of mashed “kumara,” a term they use for sweet potatoes.
While I was there I picked up three cookbooks by a New Zealand cookbook author and TV show doyenne, Annabelle Langbein; her name consistently came up when I asked natives for a good New Zealand cookbook author. Indeed! She is the equivalent of the Barefoot Contessa in my book, and I have used Annabelle’s books not only for lamb recipes but for inspiration when making vegetables, salads and other dishes. The only caveat is that I need to convert grams to ounces and oven temperatures from Centigrade to Fahrenheit. I love mathematics so it makes it challenging for me! (It’s easy to convert via the internet though)
The lamb shank preparation I love the most began with a recipe from Annabelle’s cookbook Assemble. I had to search in Seattle for lamb shanks that we not enormous (fore shanks are smaller and I greatly prefer them). I also found it interesting that lamb from Australia and New Zealand is grass fed and most likely organic – and I found the perfect shanks at … Safeway! Go figure…
Make these on a cold Sunday, and mash some sweet potatoes to soak up the savory juices. Roast some Brussels sprouts, green beans or brocollini and you will have a filling, beautiful plate of food. Invite some friends over, and pretend that these were very difficult and time consuming to prepare! You’ll be a star, I promise.
Luscious Lamb Shanks
- 4-5 lamb shanks
- 1 tsp salt
- ⅓ tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup sun dried tomatoes, diced* (I always keep these as a kitchen staple in my fridge. Mine are in oil so I drain them and use these)
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste (a good reason to have a tube of this in my fridge)
- 1 Tbsp pesto (I keep this frozen in my freezer in 1 Tbsp quantities for cooking, but jarred pesto is fine too)
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp each fine sea salt , ground pepper and sugar (remember the sugar combats acidity from the tomatoes)
- Grated zest of 1 large lemon
- 3 cups chicken broth-homemade or canned is fine too
- 1 cup dry vermouth or white wine (again, I always keep vermouth in the fridge since I do not drink white wine)
- 2 cans white butter beans, drained or 3 cups home-cooked white beans (any variety except garbanzo)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and put oven rack close to the bottom. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper (for easier clean up). Dry the shanks very thoroughly with a towel, then rub the shanks all over with the salt and pepper. Place in the roasting pan in the oven uncovered for about 40 minutes until shanks are a little browned. Remove and pour off fat at the bottom of the roasting pan (mine had about ½ cup of liquid I poured off). Turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Sprinkle diced sundried tomatoes around the shanks – tucking them in so they are evenly distributed. Then mix together all the rest of the ingredients, then pour everything else over the shanks. Cover the roaster and keep cooking for three hours, basting every 45 minutes or so until they are fall-off-the-bone-tender. I often take the lid off the roasting pan 15 minutes before it is done so that the lamb browns a little more and the juices concentrate.
Serve in a large bowl on top of a heap of mashed sweet potatoes and steamed or roasted vegetables around the lamb for color. In a pinch I have even used frozen veggies (a mix of corn, carrot and peas).
If making this ahead – and I often make the lamb the day prior to serving – the lamb fat can be removed then the lamb and liquid can be reheated in the roasting pan at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.
FYI, cooked lamb shanks freeze quite well in a little of the juice for up to 3 months.