The evenings are still cool in Napa. For a special meal at this time of year I turn to my favorite meat—lamb. This winter I worked on creating a lamb dish that was delicious and nearly effortless. Lamb shank an underrated hero, has thankfully risen from a lowly peasant meal. In an Italian cookbook I found a recipe for cooking lamb in parchment paper. The recipe used lamb shoulder which I changed to lamb shanks making it more unctuous and deepened the flavors by making a moist rub with lots of fresh herbs to marinate the shanks in for a couple of days before cooking. The flavors will linger long after you’re finished.
I wanted the dish to be big in flavor and easy to prepare and it delivers on that promise. Notice I didn’t include fast in the description I wish I could; you need the time for the flavors to meld. The slow cooking tenderizes the lamb shank by melting away any tough bits into gelatin. If you have time to prepare the lamb shanks 2 days in advance the herbs can penetrate the lamb shank; if not, it will still be delicious. You could double the recipe and have some the same day and cook the rest 2 days later for and reap the rewards from a long marinade.
It is easier to cook shanks than other cuts of lamb that require precision. There is little prep and this recipe requires minimal time cleaning up. I don’t brown the lamb before cooking as it browns nicely as it cooks for hours yielding the same great flavor as if you browned the meat and no fat splattering’s to wipe up. Nor are there pans to scrub since it is cooked in parchment paper you toss your cooking vessel in the trash! If that’s not enough to get you to try it … my mom says it’s the best lamb she’s ever eaten!
When your family tucks into this dinner it will be quiet for a moment as they savor your creation. Incredibly flavored tender lamb served on creamy polenta with some broccoli rabe to balance the flavors of the dish. Buon Appetito!
Lamb Shanks in Parchment
This is wonderful with polenta and broccoli rabe.
4 Lamb shanks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dry
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, minced or ½ teaspoon dry
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch pieces
2 shallots, sliced thin
12 Crimini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters
Polenta (see recipe)
Heat oven to 325ºF
1. Use a microplane zester to remove the zest from the lemon. In a large mixing bowl mix the zest, juice of ½ the lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, tomato paste, thyme, oregano and rosemary together. Add in the lamb shanks use your hands to make sure the lamb shanks are coated. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. (It will still be delicious even if you don’t have a day or two to let it marinate.)
2. Cut four-15 inch long pieces of parchment paper and aluminum foil.* Place a piece of parchment on top of each piece of aluminum foil. Divide the carrots, mushrooms, and shallots among the squares of parchment paper, drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Placing a shank wide end down in the middle of each square. Pull up the corners of the parchment paper and foil around each lamb shank to form a package. Squeeze tightly at the top so th at the foil is tight around the lamb shank leaving the bone exposed bone.
3. Place the packages in a shallow baking pan and bake for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
4. Remove from the oven and place the packages on warmed plates. Allow each diner to open their own package.
*If you have string on hand you can omit the aluminum foil and tie the top closed with string.