Lamb Shank Sous-Vide

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 ;-)
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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.

Ingredients

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lamb shanks (1 per person)

fresh thyme

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

clarified butter (optional)

Preparation

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Wash the lamb shanks with cold water and pat them dry with paper towels.  Rub the lamb shanks with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.

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Vacuum seal with fresh thyme.

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Cook sous-vide for about 2 days at 62C/144F.

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Transfer the juices from the pouch to a saucepan.

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Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Scum will form as the proteins in the juices have only been heated to 62C/144F during the sous-vide cooking and some of them will coagulate.

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Filter out the scum with a cheese cloth or paper towels, reserving the clear juices and discarding the scum.

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Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels.

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Brown the lamb shanks quickly in very hot clarified butter or olive oil.

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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.

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Serve the lamb shanks on warm plates with the jus.

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29 thoughts on “Lamb Shank Sous-Vide

  1. Stefan, Do you have any tips for people without a the sous-vide technology? This recepy looks great!

    • Hi Addy,
      To prepare lamb shanks without sous-vide you can try wrapping them in aluminum foil (with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper; you could also add rosemary, garlic, butter) and baking them for 2.5 hours at 200C/400F.
      Wrap them such that the juices will gather in the bottom of each parcel, and then make a jus from those juices and brown the shanks at the end by putting them back into the oven after removing the aluminum foil while you are making the jus.
      I’ve had pretty good results this way before I had sous-vide.
      Good luck!
      Stefan

  2. I will definitely be making this! My mother used to always pierce the flesh of lamb with the tip of a knife and put in a halved garlic clove. I’ve never tasted gamely lamb! Although I’ve heard it exists…

    • Great! You can definitely add garlic and/or other herbs such as rosemary. Making such a pocket is especially important when baking/roasting the lamb shanks.

      The ‘gaminess’ depends mostly on the age of the lamb. Lamb should ideally be 4 months old or so; if it becomes too old it will really be a young sheep rather than a lamb.

  3. I’ve never seen such vibrantly colored lamb shanks before… very attractive! I like the idea of serving veggie and meat as separate ‘piatti’ and I am very interested in trying lamb shanks slow cooked in foil at low temperature.

    • Thanks :-) Would certainly be nice to try that — I know they can be cooked in foil in the oven in 2-3 hours at 200C/400F, but it should also be possible to go lower and slower.

  4. OK, Stefan. You have convinced me. I have 1 very lonely lamb shank waiting for me. I will pull it out of the freezer and sous vide it this week. This looks divine.

  5. ah! love lamb shanks, never made them sous vide though! really like the simplicity here…. of course, there’s the 48 hour cooking time, but I’m sure the result is phenomenal, is on my to do list! The gaminess of this or other cuts of meat is something I have never had much trouble with, I’m lucky I guess :) thanks for posting, looks great!

  6. I’ve never seen a fully cooked lamb shank that color, Stefan, and it sure does look moist. Like I’ve said, you sure do know how to sue that sous-vide equipment. The range of dishes you’ve shared is remarkable! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  7. Pingback: Lamb Shank Sous Vide with Red Wine Sauce | REMCooks

    • Hi Bill, you could certainly do that.
      It is important to chill the vac-pack in ice water after cooking sous-vide, and then freeze it as soon as possible.
      To reheat, simply put the frozen vac-pack in the sous-vide cooker for 3-4 hours at 60C/140F.

  8. Pingback: Lamb Shank and Asparagus Sous-Vide | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

  9. Pingback: Sous Vide Lamb Shanks | Blogs for Industry

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