This week we are working with a few of my and my wife's favourite things. Lamb, red wine - cabernet sauvignon to be more specific, chilli and chocolate! Yep, you are reading correctly. I am cooking a delicious braised lamb shanks recipe that is slowly cooked in a cracking red wine sauce containing just the right amount of chilli and the addition of some chocolate. Excited? Just wait til you taste it and have the wine pairing with this one. Perfection is all I can say from the Koonara 'Ambriels Gift' Cabernet Sauvignon!
Why I Love Braised Lamb Shanks
Lets start with the cost - they aren't hugely expensive to buy and being a lamb lover it's great to get these "so called" cheaper cuts that are simply packed with flavour when cooked correctly.
Coming into winter here in Australia it's all about drinking reds to warm you. Filling the home with those beautiful rich aromas of slow-cooked food. I love to braised lamb shanks like I do many cuts of meat as you can simply leave them alone and allow the delicious red wine chocolate sauce to work its magic in the oven. You can literally spend about 10-20 minutes getting it ready and into the pot. Then, just leave it to cook away as you get on being a domestic "god".
What Are Lamb Shanks
If you are new to eating/cooking lamb then lamb shanks come from the lower section of the lamb's leg. The front (fore) or back (hind) legs of the lamb. Most lamb shanks you see in the supermarket come from the front leg and are typically smaller than the hind shank. Personally, I prefer using the hind shanks as there is more meat to them and they look prettier when they are "frenched". This is the term given when the meat is removed from the top part of the bone making the bone visible.
How To Cook Lamb Shanks
Lamb shanks are incredibly tough cuts of meat so don't go chucking them on the BBQ to grill them up and expect dinner on the table in 20-30 minutes. The shank contains a ton of connective tissue that requires cooking for a longer period of time. Trust me though, it's 100% worth it!
For me, the two ways to cook lamb shanks are either braising or smoking. Both require lower temperatures (say 140-150c) and a few hours to do.
Braised lamb shanks are when you sear the lamb in fat (typically oil) and then cook it in a liquid. In this case a delicious red wine chocolate sauce for a number of hours
Smoking them is where you cover the lamb shank in a spice rub of some sort and cook it slowly on your BBQ. This typically takes longer than braising but the results are simply epic!
Red Wine Chocolate Sauce
Sounds a little weird but boy is it delicious. When braising red meat you often cook it in a red wine and beef stock sauce. Aromatics like bay, thyme, anise and cinnamon are added to build layers of flavour. As you cook the dish slowly the meat takes on these flavours as the sauce reduces. For my braised lamb shanks dish I have followed the same principle but have upped the chilli a little and finished the sauce with a little dark chocolate.
I have used dark chocolate for its bitter components but also because dark chocolate pairs wonderfully with Cabernet Sauvignon wine. More on that later! The chocolate is added in at the end to finish the sauce and the dairy component adds a lovely glossy finish to the red wine chocolate sauce too. It may sound weird but trust me when I say lamb, chilli, chocolate and red wine are SO good together!
What To Serve With Braised Lamb Shanks
Mash! The most common thing you see served in restaurants is mashed potato or a mashed vegetable with braised lamb shanks. Often you will see root vegetables too that have been cooked in the braising liquid.
For this recipe, I have used mashed potatoes but went with a little twist and used sweet potatoes. Typically, a sweet potato will cook quicker than a regular potato and are also a bit sweeter. The reason I used them is given we have used dark chocolate in the sauce giving it a slightly bitter taste I figured the sweet potatoes would be a better fit.
Simply, chop them into bite-sized pieces, boil in salted water or stock. Once cooked, drain and allow to steam a little and then mash up with a little butter or sour cream. I used a regular old school potato masher as I wanted to leave them a little chunky for texture purposes.
The winery itself may not be one of the oldest here in Australia but the history of the land and name dates back to the early 1900s. The Reschke family came to Coonawarra in 1906 and named their property Koonara. The Reschke family still resides there and have been making wine since 1988.
It started with a few cases for friends - am I right in saying that's everyone's dream? Having a top-quality winemaker as a friend?
Since then they have definitely grown but have still kept their identity of a family-run vineyard. They have low yields of about 2 tonnes but they produce smaller grapes which gives them more skin contact and more flavour through their wines. Coupled with the fact they use only the best French barrels and are fully organic you can taste the love and quality that goes into every bottle.
If that wasn't enough - Peter Douglas who you may have heard of through 15 years at Wynns amongst other things is their wine-maker so with a man like him amongst vineyards like these it's no wonder I'm loving their wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Pairing
What's better than a delicious bowl of braised lamb shanks, chocolate chilli sauce and mashed sweet potatoes? You guessed it, a glass of Koonara 'Ambriels Gift' Cabernet Sauvignon alongside it!
Coonawarra, known as Australia's "other red region" is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon. To me, one of the best pairings with a glass of Cab is some lamb. So, when I was thinking about what to pair with the Koonara Cab this recipe which I had in my mind (saved into my iPhone notes so I wouldn't forget!) for a while was the first choice. The slow-cooked rich flavours and the addition of some dark chocolate (which is so good on its own with Cab) all work so well.
The wine itself has a little age on it (2016) so has had time to mellow out or soften as they say in wine terms. It has delicious black and blue fruits with some spice notes coming through on the nose along with a little eucalyptus and graphite too. The palate has velvety tannins, spice - may be in the form of green peppercorns and similar fruit flavours. The oak from those amazing French barrels is present but balanced like the acidity.
For a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, it is drinking beautifully now after a quick decant and can be enjoyed easily over the next 5 years. I thoroughly recommend it and @ $44 a bottle ($35 if you are a member) a 6 pack is the way to go. One bottle just simply isn't enough amongst friends and once you have 1 it'll be annoying to have to pay for shipping again on the next few as you are 100% going to need more 😉
Alternative Lamb Recipes
Excited by my delicious braised lamb shanks recipe and the red wine chocolate sauce? Check out these other amazing lamb recipes from my site and fellow food bloggers too!
Moroccan Lamb Shoulder by Yours Truly
Leftover Lamb Shepards Pie by Robyn Jones of 'Mrs Jones Kitchen'
Lamb Backstrap w/ Smoked Squash & Pistachio Dukkah by Yours Truly
Lamb & Veggie Greek Style Lasagna by Kylie Archer of 'Kidgredients'
Grilled Lamb Chops w/ Harissa & Labneh by Yours Truly
- 4 lamb shanks 4-500g each
- 1 small red onion
- 1 celery
- 1 large carrot
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 red chilli
- 1 anise
- 300 ml red wine (1 & 1/4 cups)
- 500 ml beef stock (2 cups)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 20 g dark chocolate
- salt & pepper
Sweet Potato Mash
- 800 g sweet potatoes (2lbs)
- 40 g butter (4 tbsp)
- salt & pepper
- 1 bunch kale removed from stalk
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt & pepper
- Dice the onion, carrot, chili & celery into small even sized pieces
- Season the lamb and sear in a hot oven-proof pan with olive oil – 8 minutes
- Remove the lamb from pan and cook the diced vegetables until soft – 2/3 minutes
- Add anise, stock & red wine. Bring to a simmer, add lamb and cover
- Cook in the oven @ 150c for approx. 90 minutes or until lamb is falling off the bone
- Remove from the oven – discard the anise and remove the lamb, cover and keep warm
- Add the chocolate and reduce the sauce by ½ (approx. 15-20 minutes) and blend until smooth
- Add lamb back in and simmer for a couple minutes, coating lamb with the sauce
- Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 2cm pieces
- Boil in salted water until soft (approx. 12-15 minutes)
- Remove from water, allow the steam to evaporate for a minute.
- Add butter and mash – I like to keep mine slightly chunky to add texture to the dish
- Fry kale for 2-3 minutes with olive oil and seasoning in a hot pan
- ovenproof saucepan/dutch oven
- chopping board
- chef knives
- measuring/weighing utensils
- frying pan
- potato masher
- stick blender
- the lamb shanks can be made in advance – in fact, most slow-cooked dishes taste better reheated as it gives a chance for the spices to blend together as it cools
- lamb shanks can be frozen – I recommend removing meat from the bone to make it easier for you. That is unless you want to keep the bone for presentation purposes
- not a chocolate fan? You can omit the chocolate or reduce the quantity no problem but I like the extra flavour the chocolate & chilli bring to the dish
- searing the lamb at the start is very important. It helps release some of the fat but the more colour you get on them the more flavour it adds. Just don’t burn them 😉