The amount of flavor in meat is determined to a large extent upon the amount of work that muscle had to do, and so shanks are very flavorful. Unfortunately muscles that do a lot of work also become tough, so there is often a choice between tender meat with a light flavor (such as tenderloin) or tough with meat lots of flavor (such as shanks). With traditional preparation, tough meat is often braised or stewed which makes it tender and flaky. The drawback of braising is that braised meat is often a bit dry. With sous-vide, you can have the best of both worlds: tough cuts can be cooked at a temperature that is just high enough to break down the toughness, but also low enough to allow the meat to stay succulent. The meat will be fork tender, succulent, and very flavorful.
The only drawback of the low temperature is that it takes a long time, between 24 and 72 hours. It is not a big problem because sous-vide cooking does not require any attention at all while it’s going on. So you can start up the cooking process on Sunday afternoon and serve outstanding meat on Tuesday night.
Spring is the time for lamb and the toughest cut of lamb that is packed with flavor is the lamb shank. Braised lamb shanks are good, lamb shanks cooked sous-vide for 48 hours at 62C/144F are simply amazing. Lamb shanks are not a prized cut, so please don’t buy sous-vide equipment so it will stay that way ;-)
Lamb has a lot of flavor that is sometimes characterized as ‘gamey’. When cooked for such a long time, the gamey flavor is accentuated and can become too strong. There are two ways to work around this: (1) use only meat from ewes (female lamb) rather than rams (male lamb), because the males have a much stronger scent, and (2) cook the meat with a bit of thyme and a bit of olive oil.
In Italy it is quite normal to serve meat as a secondo piatto without any sides, if it was preceded by a (vegetable) primo piatto. This is how we eat most nights. In this case, I served the lamb simply with a bit of its own jus.
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
clarified butter (optional)
Put the lamb shanks on warm plates and deglaze the pan with the lamb juices obtained from the bag, using a wooden spatula to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. If you will be serving wine with the lamb, it’s also nice to add a bit of the same wine at this point. Allow the lamb juices (and the wine, if using) to reduce briefly over medium heat.