Perfectly cooked lamb shanks are a breeze if you: 1) use stock that comes only halfway up the shanks; 2) braise them slowly enough; 3) turn them three or four times while they are cooking. A heavy cooking pan just large enough to hold the shanks one layer deep is essential. To achieve the melting texture that makes them so wonderful, it is important to let them stand, covered with a wet towel (so they do not dry out and form a crust), in a warm place for twenty minutes after they are cooked.
Eat the shanks merely braised, grill them after they have been braised, or take them off the bone to use in stews. I use the shanks for braising and stewing because their gelatinous quality prevents them from drying out, and they are the perfect tender and juicy meat for any lamb stew or ragout.
Season the lamb shanks heavily and put them in a casserole or heavy pot (without crowding) with the olive oil, unpeeled garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Brown them evenly over medium heat for 15 minutes, turning every 3 minutes. Remove, wipe out the pan, and put the shanks back in with the stock, vegetable mix, and basil stems. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and put it in the oven.
Remove the shanks when they are done and keep warm and covered with a wet kitchen towel.
Sieve the braising juices into a pot and bring to a boil. The moment the stock boils, push the pot half off the burner, turn down the heat so that one side of the sauce is simmering, and skim off all the fat. Reduce the juices slowly to
Meanwhile, remove all the meat from the bones, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Put the pieces in a bowl with the basil leaves and cumin and gently mix together. Let sit for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a pan and add the lamb. Toss the lamb in the pan for 5 minutes to toast the cumin. Add the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. Season.
Serve on hot plates and put the linguine in the center of each plate with the lamb and sauce around.
We served this stew more than a few times with large pasta tubes filled with mushroom hash, or accompanied by stewed thinly sliced elephant garlic, fava beans, black truffles, and curried parsnips—exotic, and very good. Or serve with just chive, sage, or hyssop flowers—all superb with rich meats.
© 2002 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.