Lamb shanks

I started a career on ABC radio with a recipe for lamb shanks, and the place went wild. People were writing in from mansions and caravan parks for what is nothing at all really — just a simple mix of lamb shanks and water and vegetables, and patience.

It gave me great heart that some of the old cuts and old ways are still keenly considered, perhaps just needing a memory prod.

The beauty about cooking the gelatinous cuts of meat such as shanks of lamb or veal or beef is that one effort contributes to three or four meals, depending on your appetite. And even when the meat has disappeared you can often rely on a little stock to give a soup a boost. And every time I cook a dish like this I wonder why there is not a permanent place on the stove for a bubbling stock. Space I guess, or a lack of large, dedicated stock pots.

Lamb shanks really taste a lot better if cooked in a stock of their own, but I’m not about suggesting you make one especially for this dish. Perhaps you should if you want to impress guests; otherwise cook the shanks in water and let them provide their own stock.

If you have plenty of stock on hand, enough to cover the lamb, then it is best to cook the dish slowly in a covered pot; if you are cooking with water, cook them uncovered to intensify the flavours.

6 lamb shanks, sawn in half crossways by your butcher

2 cups red wine

2 cups port — The red wine and the port will not be necessary if you have a lamb stock.

4 carrots, sliced in wide pieces — You can use more or less, as you prefer.

2 leeks, sliced like the carrots

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 chillies

lamb stock or water to cover — You can make a lamb stock by roasting some lamb bones and some veal shanks in the oven, draining the fat away, de-glazing with some red wine, adding carrots, celery, leeks, and salt to taste, and covering the lot with water. Cook gently for a couple of hours. Drain, cool, and remove any fat which has come to the surface. Save the veal for a splendid meal, later in the week.


black pepper

bunch of rosemary


When you are ready to go with the shanks, brown them on top of the stove for a couple of minutes, then roast them in a hot oven for about 15 minutes until they are sizzling. They should have browned (not burned) pretty well all over. Remove and drain the pan of fat, and de-glaze with the red wine and port, cooking it hard to a fast boil for several minutes. Add the carrots, leeks, garlic, chillies, and shanks, cover with the stock/water, and add more salt than you might think — about 2 teaspoons. You must check the seasoning on the way through.


Bring to the boil and then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook until the shanks are tender and come away from the bone easily — 60–90 minutes. The carrots will be a good indicator of when the shanks are done. They will be tender and full of their own sweetness and the flavour of the lamb stock. The lamb must not be dry — you can overcook a stew — but pink to the bone. When the lamb is cooked, toss in the rosemary to infuse the sauce as the pot cools down. Allow to cool so that the fat will come to the surface.


Remove any fat, and the rosemary, and re-heat. Serve in large bowls, with a large bowl in the middle of the table for the scraped bones.

Note: Much the same method should be utilised with ox tail, cut into segments by your butcher. Perfectly cooked ox tail needs a rich red wine and beef stock in which to cook. If the ox tail starts in the stock, and there are many carrots and waxy potatoes drifting around, you can be certain of pure delight. Pure, pure delight. In each case — lamb shanks and ox tail — if the meat is removed from the bone, it makes for a superb pasta dish, far better and more satisfying than the usual bolognese sauce made with mince.

WINE: I guess that before wine became a natural part of Australian meals, a pot of tea would have been served with this dish. I have nothing against tea, but I’d prefer a hearty red. The Langhorne Creek district of South Australia makes perfect reds for this dish — Potts, Metala or Wolf Blass.