The Time Is Ripe For Braised Lamb Shanks with Sweet-and-Sour Kumquats
Admittedly, I often hem and haw, even dodge, duck, and deflect, when people invariably ask me what my favorite recipe is in my cookbook, “East Bay Cooks” (Figure 1, 2019).
It’s like choosing a favorite child — or in my case, only one dessert to eat for the rest of my life.
It just can’t be done.
However, I will concede this: At this time of year especially, I will eagerly flip the pages of my cookbook until I stop longingly at “Braised Lamb Shanks with Sweet-and-Sour Kumquats.”
This comforting dish is from Chef Kevin Gin of Bridges in Danville. It’s one of those fabulous dishes in which your oven really does all the work — turning lamb shanks, cooked with an entire bottle of red wine and aromatics like thyme and rosemary, into fall-off-the-bone lusciousness.
The lamb cooks for hours in the oven, its juices melding with the wine and a generous amount of tomato paste, creating its own velvety, deeply flavorful sauce.
The original recipe directs to strain the braising liquid before serving. But if you’re like me, and prefer a more rustic look (or just want to save on steps), leave the sauce with its chunks of carrots, celery, and onion as is when spooning over the plated shanks.
The kumquat garnish is what makes this hearty dish particularly special. I love kumquats, which are in peak season from now through March. So much so that I planted a dwarf tree about five years ago. It was only this winter, though, that it bore fruit. Well, a total of four kumquats, that is. And unfortunately, they are all still mostly green right now.
Needing 2 cups of the tiny citrus, whose skin is sweet in contrast to its tart juice, I ended up buying them instead for this recipe. The kumquats get simmered with white wine and honey, as well as fresh tarragon and shallots, turning them soft, and sweet-savory.
They get spooned over the lusty lamb shanks, adding the perfect amount of fruity, tangy, candied citrus taste with a lilt of anise. Feel free to serve the lamb shanks atop soft polenta, mashed potatoes, brown rice, orzo, barley or farro — or anything else that will absorb all that delicious sauce. Should you have leftover sauce after devouring the shanks, use it over pasta or spooned over rice and a fried egg for a loco moco-like breakfast.
The kumquats are so good cooked like this that I could practically eat them by the spoonful all on their own.
And who knows — maybe next winter I can, with homegrown ones.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Sweet-and-Sour Kumquats
For the lamb shanks:
4 lamb shanks (about 4 pounds total)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons canola oil (divided)
1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (divided)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 to 6 cups veal or chicken stock
2 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup tomato paste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
For sweet-and-sour kumquats:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
2 cups kumquats, halved and seeded
6 tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons honey
Sea salt, to taste
To cook the lamb shanks: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Place lamb shanks in the pan and sear on all sides. Transfer shanks to a large bowl. Pour 3/4 cup of wine into the pan to deglaze, scraping up any caramelized bits. Turn heat up to medium-high, and let wine cook for 3 minutes. Pour reduced red wine over the lamb shanks.
Wipe out the pan and place it back over medium heat. Add butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add carrots, celery, and onions, and saute for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Stir in flour and toast for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rest of the red wine. Return lamb shanks to the pan and add enough stock to cover. Add peppercorns, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and tomato paste. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, until meat is very tender.
To make the sweet-and-sour kumquats: Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until softened. Add kumquats and tarragon and cook for 1 minute. Pour in wine and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until kumquats are soft and tender, and wine has reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in honey. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
To serve: Arrange lamb shanks on four individual serving plates. Strain braising liquid, then season to taste with salt and Worcestershire sauce. Spoon this sauce over and around the lamb shanks, scatter kumquats overtop, and serve.
From Chef Kevin Gin of Bridges, as published in “East Bay Cooks” by Carolyn Jung
Another Recipe from “East Bay Cooks”: Jean’s Persian Cucumbers
And More Kumquat Recipes: Kumquats Simmered in Sake