The last time I cooked lamb shanks, about four years ago, it didn’t end well. I’d made a Nigella Lawson recipe for lamb shanks and beans, but I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, with the usual ailments — sensitive to smell and with occasional morning sickness. I could barely stand the smell of the lamb as it was cooking, and after just one bite I gave one of the shanks to the dog and threw the rest straight into the wheelie bin outside so I wouldn’t be able to smell it anymore.
But then a few weeks ago I picked up a copy of Jamie’s Great Britain and saw his recipe for Guinness Lamb Shanks and decided to give them another try, figuring that if I didn’t like them prepared this way, then I probably never would. And I did! It’s the lamb shank redemption.
Lamb Shanks in Irish Stout
adapted from Jamie’s Great Britain by Jamie Oliver
This recipe is called Guinness Lamb Shanks in Jamie Oliver’s book, but I’d rather support one of Ireland’s excellent craft breweries instead (I used O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Stout). Jamie also calls for the shanks to be served intact, but serving up a big bone on a plate seems more medieval than rustic, so I removed the meat from the bones and shredded it and served it that way instead.
3 red onions, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls of raisins
3 heaped tablespoons thick-cut marmalade
1 heaped tablespoon ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, plus extra for serving
200 ml stout or dark ale
6 lamb shanks, roughly 350g each
8 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 litre chicken stock
mashed potatoes (or a blend of potatoes and celeriac, which is what Jamie calls for)
a small bunch of fresh mint leaves
a few tablespoons of rapeseed or olive oil
2 spring onions, trimmed
Put the onions into a really large Dutch oven or casserole-type pan (roughly 26 cm in diameter and 12 cm deep) with a lug of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over a medium to high heat, stirring as you go, until the onions start to caramelise. Add the raisins and marmalade, then add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and beer. Give it all a good stir, then leave to gently simmer.
Meanwhile, put the lamb shanks into a large frying pan (roughly 30 cm wide) on a medium to high heat with a drizzle of olive oil, cooking them in batches if needed. Turn them over every few minutes; once they have some good colour, pick in the rosemary leaves and move them around in the pan to get crispy, but don’t let them burn. Use tongs to move the shanks into the pan of onions, then pour in all their juices and the crispy rosemary. Add the stock, put the lid on, turn down the heat and leave to blip away slowly for around 3 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone easily. Try to turn the shanks halfway through so they cook evenly. About 30 minutes before the lamb is cooked, start making your mashed potatoes.
When the lamb shanks are ready, carefully move them to a plate. Whiz or liquidise the gravy with a stick blender until smooth, then allow the gravy to reduce down and thicken. Quickly bash most of the mint leaves in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of salt and some oil, then take to the table. Finely slice up the spring onions and toss on a plate with the remaining mint leaves, a drizzle of cider vinegar and a pinch of salt.
By now the mashed potatoes should be ready, so put them on a platter or individual plates and put the lamb on top. Add a little splash of cider vinegar and a few more splashes of Worcestershire sauce to the sauce, then ladle it all over the platter or plates and pour the rest into a jug for people to help themselves. Scatter the vinegary spring onions and a few fresh mint leaves all over the top, drizzle the mint oil all around the lamb, and serve.