The meat itself, despite the pallid appearance, is a treasure trove of flavors and textures. Interspersed in the tender meat are strands of gelatinous tendon. And, after braising for two and a half hours, the gamey smell of lamb was hardly discernible. Instead, the lamb shanks smelled and tasted of garlic, citrusy lemongrass and ginger.
The sheer amount of fish sauce that goes into the cooking liquid should give you a good idea that the salty component of the flavors goes beyond the brininess of salt. The heat of the chilies, while still quite distinct, has lost much of its sharpness as the chilies meld with the sugar.
The cooking method requires very basic skills. However, to give the lamb shanks the best flavor and aroma, you need the freshest herbs and spices.
Brown the lamb shanks first. This creates a crust on the surface that adds flavor both to the meat and sauce. It also prevents the shanks from a having the mouth feel of boiled meat.
When the lamb shanks are suffiently browned, move them to a plate. In the remaining oil, gently cook the onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chilies until softened and highly aromatic.
The lamb shanks join the spices and herbs in the pan. Fish sauce, broth and sugar are added and the shanks cook slowly in the liquid until the meat is so tender that it easily separates from the bone.
During braising, it’s a good idea to flip the shanks over midway through the cooking. It is also a good idea to taste the cooking liquid once in a while. Add more fish sauce, as needed.
It is NOT a good idea to pour in additional broth. There should be less than half a cup of cooking liquid by the time the shanks are done. That liquid has very concentrated flavors and you do not want to dilute it.
Thai-inspired braised lamb shanks
- 2 lamb shanks - total weight about 1 kilogram
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 large onion - peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic - lightly pounded
- 1 one-inch knob ginger - peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 stalks lemongrass - (only the lower portion of the stalks; measure three inches from the root), minced after discarding outer layers
- 5 bird’s eye chilies - thinly sliced
- 3 cups bone broth
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
- cooked rice - to serve
- mint leaves - to garnish
- Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wide shallow pan.
- Over high heat, brown the lamb shanks, rolling them in the hot oil to brown as much of the surface as possible.
- Lift out the lamb shanks and move to a plate.
- Lower the heat to medium. In the remaining oil, saute the onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and three of the chilies until softened.
- Put the lamb shanks back in the pan. Pour in the broth and fish sauce. Stir in the sugar. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for two to two and a half hours.
- When the shanks are done, assemble the the dish.
- Spread rice on a serving platter and arrange the lamb shanks on top of the rice.
- Stir the lime or lemon juice into the cooking liquid then spoon the liquid, along with the aromatics, over the meat. Sprinkle in the mint leaves and remaining chilies.
- Serve the braised lamb shanks hot.