Braised Lamb Shanks with Red Wine and Chocolate Sauce

It’s officially Spring now, but I still can’t get over what a mild winter we had here in D.C. I am not going to lie, I am kind of bitter about the lack of snow and, more importantly, snow days. I never knew how much I enjoyed snow days until they were taken away from me by global warming. Still, I like to think that I was able to make the most of any cold weather that came my way.

Back in February, it was finally chilly enough for Alex and I to get back to the business of braising. Earlier that week, I sent Alex an e-mail suggesting we make a braised lamb recipe she had found and sent me several weeks back. Alex and I both enjoy braised lamb shanks and Alex was particularly intrigued by this recipe which combined lamb shanks with red wine and finished with some chocolate. I’m usually wary of using chocolate in savory foods, but the blog Alex had sent me proclaimed it was the best thing this person had ever eaten so unless this was the most cruel joke in the history of mankind, the combination couldn’t be too bad. The more I thought about it the more I believed I would really really enjoy these lamb shanks so while shopping for ingredients at Safeway, decided to go all in and double the recipe so Alex and I could have some leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day.

Braised Lamb Shanks in a Red Wine Sauce (adapted from Choosy Beggars)

INGREDIENTS:
6 lamb shanks
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bottles dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds
1.5 tsp allspice berries
1 tsp. dried rosemary
2 dried chilis
2 star anise
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 28 oz. can diced tomato
2 oz semi sweet chocolate
salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Rinse the shanks under cold water and gently pat them dry.  Remove as much of the outer membrane and silver skin as you can from each shank, carving off any truly excessive fat (not that there should be much) while you’re at it. Season the shanks with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven set over high heat.  When the oil is shimmering and starting to smoke it is hot enough to sear. Working in batches, gently place shanks in pan and sear shanks on all sides until they are richly browned, about 12 minutes total. Transfer browned shanks to plate.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and garlic to skillet and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Return lamb to dutch oven.

Pour the wine and broth over the shanks. Add the bay leaves, chilis and spices.  Add the can of diced tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. If liquid does not completely cover the lamb shanks, add enough water to until shanks are barely covered. Cover dutch oven and place in oven until shanks are tender, about 2.5 hours.

Remove the lamb shanks to a casserole dish. Reduce the oven temperature to 200ºF. Ladle 3/4 cup of the broth and pour it over the lamb shanks.  Tent the shanks with foil and tuck them into the oven to keep warm while you finish the sauce.
Strain the sauce through a wire mesh and into a medium to small pot. Use a wooden spoon to strain out as much liquid as possible.  Discard remaining solids trapped in the mesh.

Place sauce over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When liquid has reduced to about 1.5 cups, remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let the chocolate melt into the sauce for just a minute or two before stirring or it will separate and become granular. Gently stir the sauce until the chocolate is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately (seen here with polenta and braised kale).

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