Braised Lamb Shanks in the Style of Avignon (Daube d’Agneau A l’Avignonnaise)
By Elizabeth Gawthrop Riely This one-dish meal of lamb shanks and vegetables is typical of Provence in southern France. Make it a day or two ahead, so that you can remove the fat, bone, and connective tissue (save the bones for Scotch Broth -- click here for the recipe). The remaining meat, vegetables, and sauce will be richly flavored and elegant enough for your mother-in-law, needing only a slow reheating. You can vary the proportions and, for extra people at table, add more vegetables or stock and a handful of pasta.
Makes about 8 servings.
Olive oil 6 lamb shanks (about 1 1/2 pounds each) 10 ounces mushrooms, halved or quartered according to size 1 large bulb fennel, top removed, quartered, cored, each quarter cut in half and sliced 2 leeks, split nearly to the root end, rinsed, quartered, and sliced 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 28 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, roughly chopped 1 bay leaf 3 sprigs fresh thyme 4 sprigs fresh parsley + more for garnish 1 cup or more red wine, or mushroom or vegetable stock Salt and pepper to taste
Film the bottom of a very large pot with olive oil and brown the lamb shanks, three or so at a time, over medium heat, turning to color all sides. As they are done put them in a large bowl. In the fat left in the pot, sauté the mushrooms until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring. With a slotted spoon add them to the lamb shanks. Lower the heat slightly and add to the pot the fennel, leek, and garlic and stir to soften them, adding oil as needed.
Return the lamb shanks to the pot with the mushrooms and any juices. Add the tomatoes, herbs, and enough wine and/or stock to reach the bottom layer of shanks. Cover tightly and simmer slowly for about 2 hours. Halfway through, put the bottom shanks on top and vice versa. Simmer until the meat is falling off the bone, literally (if in doubt simmer longer). Cool uncovered, then chill overnight. Lift off and discard the solidified layer of fat on top.
Although you can serve the shanks as they are, bone and all, for more delicate sensibilities and to serve more people, I prefer to remove the bones from the shanks, leaving the meat in large chunks (save the bones for lamb stock). Pull off and discard any connective tissue and fat. Discard the bay leaf, thyme stems and parsley.
To serve, gently reheat the lamb and vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley. Accompany the dish with crusty French bread and red Provençal wine.