When I was growing up, my family rarely ate beef, but lamb was usually on the table, which may be why I tend to cook with it nowadays. The shank is one of my favorite cuts and is quite inexpensive. Although it takes a long time to cook, it has a delectably rich, buttery flavor and usually falls off the bone. Caramelizing the shanks before putting them in the oven further enhances the flavor of this dish. Lamb pairs well with fruit, and I usually braise in the fall and early winter when quince are in season. Looking like a cross between a pear and an apple, quince becomes sweet after cooking. If you cannot find quince, substitute apples or pears (see Variations). Although the amount of meat may seem large, at least half of each shank is bone.
Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a large sauté pan or skillet on high, and then add shanks. Sear for about 3–4 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown on all sides. Remove to a large braising pan.
Bring 1 cup of chicken broth to a boil, add to the sauté pan and with the heat on low, deglaze the pan by scraping the remaining pieces of meat stuck to it with a whisk or spatula. Transfer to the braising pan with the shanks.
In a medium sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of canola oil and “sweat” the onions and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 12–14 minutes. The onions should be soft and translucent.
Add the tomato and 1 cup of chicken broth, bring to a simmer and then transfer the mixture to the braising pan with the shanks.
Pour the remaining 4 cups of broth into the braising pan. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Cover with parchment paper or aluminum foil and a lid and place in the oven.
After the lamb has been cooking for about 3 hours, place the quince, 1 cup of chicken broth, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, allspice and cloves in a small saucepot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove the quince and keep warm. Discard the liquid and seasonings.
After about 4 hours of cooking, when the meat is tender and almost falling off the bone, remove the shanks from the oven and let them cool until they can be handled. (They should still be warm.) Remove the shanks from the pan, leaving the vegetables in the pan juices. Cover the shanks to keep them warm.
Place the braising pan on the top of the range and with two burners on medium-high, reduce the sauce by whisking it until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
To serve, place one-sixth of the quince on the side of each plate with a shank next to it and lap the sauce over it. Top with mint.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Spiced Apples Follow the recipe above, replacing the quince with Honey Crisp apples and reducing the cooking time by 12–15 minutes so the apples don’t turn to mush.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Spiced Pears Follow the recipe above, replacing the quince with Bartlett pears and reducing the cooking time by 12–15 minutes so the pears don’t turn to mush.