No book of mine would be complete without a reference to lamb shanks. They’re not as cheap as they were, but they’re still far below so-called premium cuts.
Lamb shanks make for the most marvellous slow-cooked dish, no matter how you cook them. That doesn’t necessarily mean a stew. This is the muscly part of a lamb leg that you should always beg for from a leg roast. Even if you take little care, and toss the shanks into a pot of water and start cooking, you will still pull together a pretty good dish. Just stack aromatics around the shanks and cook very gently, until the meat on the shanks is very tender and drifting away from the bone. This is the foundation of the very best soup.
The pressure cooker has added a new dimension to slow- cooked dishes, particularly those based on gelatine-laced working cuts of meat. This was one of the first dishes I cooked in my new pressure cooker. I was instantly hooked, and haven’t stopped playing since.
4 lamb shanks, sawn in half and excess fat removed
1 cup port
½ cup water
plenty of salt
½ sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
5 small waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced to same size as other vegetables
1 leek, chopped
½ celery, chopped
whole cloves of garlic (optional)
Brown the shanks in a heavy pan, and toss into the pressure cooker. The browning is optional. It just adds a little more flavour to the end result. If you’re in a hurry, skip it. Deglaze the very hot pan with a little of the port and pour the rest over the lamb. Add enough water to cover the shanks (remember, whatever liquid goes in, comes out), and scrape the results of the deglazing into the pressure cooker.
Add 3 teaspoons salt, and all the vegetables (garlic optional – for you, not for me). Cover, bring to full steam, adjust the heat and cook at maximum pressure for 35 minutes. Release the pressure and it’s done.
As with all slow-cooked dishes, this is best done well in advance and left to cool, to allow the fat to rise and the flavours to draw together.
Serve in soup bowls or on crusty toast, or with your best pasta or boiled rice. Toss the parsley over the top and have plenty of black pepper on hand.
WINE: A hearty dish for the family on a winter’s night. The northeast of Victoria makes honest, full-flavoured reds that would be ideal here.