Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
I love braising. Cooking a choice cut of meat low and slow until it's fall-apart tender makes for a cozy afternoon that fills the whole house with the enticing aromas of an impressive dinner to come.
We're nearing the end of the traditional braising season, but I will continue to braise away—and this week, lamb shanks are on the menu. One of the lovely things about this technique is that once your shanks are seared and everything is in the oven, you can go about your business while the meat stews.
Adding lentils into the mix makes for a complete one-pot meal, and the juices from the stewing meat will beautifully flavor the lentils as they cook. This quantity of lentils is more than enough for four servings, but the leftovers can be even better the next day. Serve them topped with an egg, or add more stock to transform them into a standalone stew. For this dish, four lamb shanks yield four robust portions—half a shank is likely enough for moderate appetites, especially when paired with the hearty lentils.
These braised shanks are several hours in the making, but the prep time is quite reasonable. (You can save time on the prep by buying a pre-diced mirepoix.) This dish is very versatile when it comes to wine pairings, but using the same wine in the braise that you want to serve with dinner will ensure an ideal match. Many red wines should work here. In this case, we decided to do a little New World–Old World showdown—a California Syrah out of the Santa Ynez Valley versus a Ventoux Southern Rhône red blend.
Both choices worked quite well. The California Syrah was ripe and juicy with lots of big berry flavors and a dusting of cocoa. The Ventoux had plenty of berry notes as well, but the fruit was a little more brambly and it had notes of herbs and spice, which helped to bring out the thyme and pepper in the food. It also had a little more acidity, which made it more refreshing on the palate. Given the heartiness of the lamb-lentil combo, this was quite welcome and made the Rhône blend our favorite of the evening.
Pair with a Southern Rhône red such as Delas Ventoux 2014 (87 points, $11) or a California Rhône-style red such as Andrew Murray Syrah Santa Ynez Valley Tous Les Jours 2014 (88 points, $18)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Active cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Approximate food cost: $54
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Season lamb shanks well with salt and pepper. Heat a generous amount of cooking oil—enough to cover the bottom of the pot with more than just a film—in a large Dutch oven, pot or braising pan. Sear the lamb shanks over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, working in batches if necessary. Set seared shanks aside.
3. Deglaze the pan with a little wine, stock or water, making sure to scrape up the browned bits. Reduce heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery to the pan; sweat until tender, approximately 10 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the lentils and toss well to combine. Cover the lentils with the wine and stock (or water), season with salt and pepper, and then add the sprigs of thyme; bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
5. Return the lamb shanks to the pot, making sure they are submerged about two-thirds of the way into the lentils and liquid, cover, and transfer the pot to the oven. Braise in the oven for about 90 minutes, or until the lamb is very tender. Uncover and cook for an additional 30 minutes. The lamb should be very tender and starting to pull away from the bone, and the lentils should be saucy and fairly soft.
6. Remove the pot from the oven, discard the used thyme sprigs, and season the lentils to taste. (Note: For a more stewlike texture for the lentils, add more stock or water until the desired consistency is reached.) Garnish the lentils with additional thyme leaves. Serve lamb shanks hot with the lentils. Serves 4 to 6.