Lamb shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb, but transforming the tough meat to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness requires a little patience and cooking time. A classic way to cook lamb shanks is to braise them in a flavorful liquid like broth or tomato sauce. This lamb shanks with coffee and ancho chile recipe uses smoky coffee and slightly sweet and peppery ancho chiles instead. The flavor profile is somewhat atypical, but I think that might change in a hurry; I can’t think of a better way to prepare lamb shanks than with a slow braise in this powerfully flavored liquid.–Josh Weissman
LC Sum Is Exponentially Better Than Its Parts Note
Duck confit. The Beatles. The Kansas City Royals. And this lamb shanks with coffee and ancho chile recipe. What these things share is that the whole is exponentially greater than the parts. So much so that the individual flavors in this recipe are somewhat lost to the cause, so don’t be disappointed if you can’t discern the coffee and the ancho as individual notes. Not that we think you’ll be disappointed with this recipe. Not at all.
Lamb Shanks with Coffee and Ancho Chile
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Four (1-pound) lamb shanks
- 3 1/2 tablespoons ghee, olive oil, or a mild oil such as avocado
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 5 small garlic cloves minced
- 1 jalapeño seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 1/4 tablespoons ancho chile powder
- 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (yep, you can use canned)
- 1 cup strongly brewed coffee
- 2 cups homemade beef stock
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds for 2 to 3 minutes or until fragrant, shaking the pan often to prevent burning. Place the toasted coriander seeds and the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind until you have a fine powder.
- Pat the lamb shanks dry. They may have a thin white membrane known as silver skin around them; if so, remove that by carefully inserting the tip of a sharp knife under the skin, cautiously cutting an opening in it, and peeling it off. You may need to cut around it, as some are tougher than others; just be careful not to pierce the meat underneath. (You can instead smile sweetly and request that your butcher do this for you.)
- Heat 2 1/2 tablespoons ghee or oil in a large ovensafe pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown them in batches, turning to brown each side, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Place the browned shanks on a platter and tent with foil. Pour out any remaining cooking fat and pat the bottom of the pot with a paper towel.
- Place the pot back on the burner and heat the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee or oil over medium heat. Stir in the onion, garlic, and jalapeño and cook until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the ground coriander and fennel seeds and ancho chile powder and cook, stirring constantly to prevent burning, for about 30 seconds or until very fragrant. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, coffee, and beef stock, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, then add the red wine vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste, and stir.
- Bring the braising liquid to a simmer and place the browned lamb shanks in the liquid, arranging them so that each shank is submerged. Pour any accumulated juices from the platter into the pot and cover. If the pot is filled less than halfway, you may want to place a sheet of parchment paper between the lid and the pot to create a tighter seal.) Place in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat pulls easily from the bone. (After about 20 minutes of braising, check the shanks. If they are simmering too hard, reduce the oven temperature by 20 to 30°F for the remainder of the braising time.)
- Skim any fat from the surface of the braising liquid. Serve the lamb shanks in shallow dishes or rimmed plates with the braising liquid and vegetables spooned over and around.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I would’ve never dreamed of putting coffee in braising liquid, but these lamb shanks with coffee and ancho chile were divine and definitely company-worthy! The braising liquid was assertive and smoky from the coffee and ancho chile powder. I removed the silver skin easily enough, but as stated, your butcher could do it. I browned the lamb shanks 3 minutes per side. I did use the parchment paper cut to fit my Dutch oven because the liquid didn’t cover the shanks. It worked beautifully. I started the oven at 350°F, and after 30 minutes, turned it down to 325°F for the remainder of the cooking time. It took the full 3 hours for the shanks to be fork-tender. When finished, I had a lot of fat on the surface of the braising liquid. I spooned that off and added 1/3 cup more beef stock to loosen the braising liquid. We served the shanks with Honig Napa Valley 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and soft polenta to soak up the braising liquid. This was a satisfying dinner for everyone!
This lamb shanks with coffee and ancho chiles recipe was fantastic—probably the best recipe I have tested for Leite’s Culinaria. Great flavors, great texture, and very well-written. Can you ask for anything more? I make a chili with similar ingredients, using pork instead of lamb, so I knew the flavor combo would turn out well, and I wasn’t disappointed. I left the shanks in the oven for 3 hours. They were perfect. It really was good. I served it with roasted brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes, although polenta would work very well, too.
This lamb shanks with coffee and ancho chiles recipe is spot-on and yet a complete change from how I normally approach lamb shanks. I have never tried lamb with chiles or coffee, and we were taken from the first bite. This recipe works deliciously and easily. The only observations I might make are to make sure your knife is sharp so you can successfully remove any of the silver membrane without piercing the meat and to stir the onions constantly and/or lower the heat when you add the onions back in so that they don’t brown too quickly since you only want to soften them. This recipe serves 4 perfectly—we had 2 servings for dinner and look forward to leftovers tomorrow. The ancho chile is about 11 grams or 3 3/4 teaspoons. At 3 hours, the meat was done perfectly, with an internal temp of 207°F to 209°F. I used a round of parchment since my largest Le Creuset oval was just barely half-full, and I liked that the meat stayed snugly braising with this step. (Lodge sells 20-inch rounds of parchment paper which saved me the step of trimming a sheet of parchment.)
Originally published March 01, 2015