Fall-Apart Lamb Shanks with Almond- Chocolate Picada


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

In this recipe I apply to large meaty lamb shanks an old-fashioned method from the Pyrenees traditionally used to prepare wild game. The shanks are marinated overnight in hearty cooked red wine (see chef Thomas Keller’s note), then gently stewed until fork-tender.

A final addition of a picada of well-pounded toasted almonds and unsweetened cocoa produces an ethereal flavor. Picadas in this part of Catalonia are judged by the smoothness of the final sauce. In this dish, the cook should try for a creamy béchamel-like texture. Please marinate the lamb shanks overnight before cooking.


  • 1 bottle (750 ml) full-bodied red wine
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 large leek (white and tender green), halved lengthwise and thickly sliced crosswise
  • 1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
  • 1 lemon, quartered
  • ½ cup drained and chopped canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 pounds lamb shanks (4 to 6 shanks)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Almond-Chocolate Picada
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish


  1. In a large saucepan, boil the wine until is reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, leek, halved garlic head, lemon, plum tomatoes, thyme, oregano, peppercorns, and bay leaves and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the marinade cool completely.
  2. Put the lamb shanks in a large glass bowl or a sealed heavy-duty plastic bag. Add the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. The following day, let the meat return to room temperature. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Discard the lemon quarters and strain the marinade, reserving the vegetables and wine separately
  4. Season the lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Cook the lamb shanks in batches over moderately high heat, turning, until browned all over, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned lamb to a large enameled cast-iron casserole, preferably with about a 7-quart capacity. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
  5. Add the reserved vegetables to the skillet along with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until deep brown and tender, about 15 minutes. Press the vegetables to express the oil, tilt the skillet to remove with a spoon, and transfer to the casserole.
  6. Pour off the oil in the skillet. Add ½ cup water to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom. Boil until reduced to a syrup. Add another cup of water and bring a boil, then scrape the contents of the skillet into the casserole. Pour the wine from the marinade into the skillet and heat to a bare simmer; add to the casserole. Cover the meat and vegetables with a sheet of wet crumpled parchment paper directly on top of the meat.
  7. Cover the casserole with the lid and cook the lamb in the oven for 4½ to 5 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Discard the paper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb shanks to an oiled shallow baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and cover loosely with foil.
  8. Strain the cooking juices through a fine sieve set over a saucepan, pressing hard on the solids to extract the liquid. Skim off as much fat as possible from the cooking juices. Boil the juices over high heat, skimming frequently, until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. (Up to this point, the recipe can he prepared in advance. Refrigerate the meat and sauce separately.)
  9. If refrigerated, let the meat return to room temperature. Gently reheat the meat and sauce separately. Scrape the picada into the sauce and cook over moderately high heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Pour the sauce over the lamb and bake for 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.