Shanks for the Memories

Dinner: October 1, 2010

The first year I lived in New York, Mike took me to Prune for my birthday. It was a freezing winter night and I was laden down with packages that my parents had mailed to my office, which the hostess was kind enough to stash downstairs so they’d be out of the way in the tiny space. The entire night was magical, and made me fall hard for that little restaurant on the Lower East Side, but I was positively bewitched by the lamb I had there.

preserved lemons

It was the sort of dish that wouldn’t look out of place at your grandmother’s house, but underneath its humble exterior was an exotic heart, with warm spices that were familiar but hard to pin down permeating the lusty sauce. I have tried for years to duplicate it, and while the true flavor of the dish I ate that long-ago night at Prune has faded in my memory, I’ve come up with a rendition I adore. Mike brought home some gorgeous Simmons Farm goat shanks from the downtown farmers’ market yesterday, and they were absolutely delicious prepared this way – so good, in fact, I thought they deserved their very own post rather than just a photo in my usual weekend wrap-up.


This is the sort of dish you’ll want to eat from a deep bowl while snuggled in front of a fireplace with someone you love. Don’t be afraid to eat the meat with your fingers, and suck the marrow from the bones.

Braised Goat (or Lamb) with Couscous

1 lb. goat or lamb shanks
Kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced carrot
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 oz. dry white vermouth
1 cup whole peeled tomatoes with juice, lightly crushed
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup preserved Meyer lemon, seeds removed
12 Castelvetrano olives
Couscous for serving
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Season the shanks heavily with salt and set aside.

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet until fragrant, then grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat until it is shimmering. Pat the shanks dry, add them to the pot, and brown them well on all sides. Remove the shanks to a platter and set aside.

Add the onion and carrot to the pan, season it with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are translucent. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to caramelize briefly before stirring it through. Sprinkle the ground spices over the vegetables and stir. Add vermouth and let it bubble up, scraping the bottom of the pan. Return the shanks to the pan with any juices that have accumulated on the platter, and add the bay leaf, cinnamon, preserved lemon, and tomatoes.

Add enough water to the pan so that the shanks are covered about 3/4 of the way. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan with a parchment lid, and cook 2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding additional water as needed. Add the olives to the pan for the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

Serve over couscous, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

10 thoughts on “Shanks for the Memories

  1. Reminds to go and have their lamb burgers again…Looks yummy, Jen. You’re on a roll 🙂

    Can you describe goat vs lamb texture, in shanks? Is it very different?

  2. Yes, yes…it is one a.m., I am buzzed and also: working (ugh) but this looks fanfrickingtastic and that video just gave me a giant crush on one Michael Ruhlman. The little “tada” hands at the end…done in.

    Hope you’re having a lovely weekend. Now I’ll have to hunt down some goat shanks. Holy YUM.

  3. I was hoping you would post a few photos, but I got a recipe instead! Yay! I defrosted some goat meat and a few assorted bones on Friday, planning to do something for dinner tonight. (all motivated by Mike’s tweets about goat) Now I have your recipe, too? Happy Day! Thanks, Jen. I’ll even forgive you that pun in the title. xoCathy

  4. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks, everyone!

    Marie – I’d say it’s a bit more tender and delicate than lamb, in both flavor and texture. Really great stuff.

    Cathy – I couldn’t resist the pun 😉

  5. I don’t know where you get these small lamb shanks. I sent my husband out and he came home with a 5lb leg of lamb shank. Also looked at other markets and this is what they sell as lamb shank. Now I need another recipe for the $35 leg of lamb I’ve got since I don’t think this one will work. Any thoughts?

    • Jennifer Hess says:

      Anna, these are goat shanks, much smaller than lamb. When we do get lamb shanks, we typically get them from our farmers’ market, and the sizes do vary, but I would imagine that a butcher could cut down shanks to whatever size you like.

      As far as your leg of lamb, rubbing it with a paste of olive oil, garlic, herbs, and lemon zest, and then roasting it low and slow, would be my first suggestion. Good luck!

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