Spiced Lamb Shanks. A Sous Vide Inspiration.

Spiced lamb shank (1 of 1)-2As I was struggling for an original dinner idea, I decided to ask a couple of foodie friends for suggestions. Given that I have cooked lamb shanks every which-way in the last while, when the best idea that emerged from their deliberations was “Why not do a lamb shank?” I wasn’t impressed. However, I hadn’t cooked them sous vide. So the thought arose and it didn’t really inspire me.

Once cogitated, like a lost sheep, the idea followed me around for the rest of the day. Not that untended ewes tend to trail me anywhere. They probably know that I will want to get my hands on their shanks. I eventually settled on cooking some shanks with a slightly spicy twist. Hence my recipe for Spiced Lamb Shanks Sous Vide. The sous vide cooking allows lots of flavour to permeate the meat and really add some flavour. I did go a little further and cooked a lovely, simple side dish that worked very well with this delicious bit of meat.

Side note on sous vide: This dish won’t have the same depth of flavour cooked any other way. So, I really encourage you to get a sous vide bath and start cooking this way. It produces unique texture and flavour from some of the least expensive and less popular cuts of meat. It is well worthwhile. 

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (1 of 7)Ingredients

  • 5 lamb shanks ( 1 lamb shank per person). I was cooking for 5.
  • 3 to 4 stalks of lemongrass
  • 2 to 3 chilis
  • 5 star anise (1 per lamb shank)
  • 2-3 teaspoons of fennel seeds
  • 2-3 teaspoons of caraway seeds
  • 3 cm of ginger
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of cornflour diluted in 2 tablespoons of water

Add the seeds to a frying pan and gently heat them until just starting to smoke.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (2 of 7)

There’s nearly a bit of Ying and Yang going on here.

They will turn a nice toasted colour.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (3 of 7)

The aromas will have neighbours calling at the door to see what you are at.

Grind the seeds to a powder.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (5 of 7)

There is a satisfying crunch to grinding these by hand. The aromas are wonderful too.

Slice the lemongrass, chilis and ginger into big pieces. These will let their flavour impregnate the meat during the cooking (That sounds vaguely rude!).

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (4 of 7)

Chop them good and big. There is plenty of cooking time to get the flavour out.

Brown the lamb shanks on a frying pan. Rub them with the fennel and caraway, then season with salt and pepper.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (6 of 7)

Spice and season the shanks. This is messy work but worth it.

Place a shank, some lemongrass, ginger, chili and a star anise into a vacuum bag and seal.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (7 of 7)

Seal in those lovely flavours. None gets wasted.

Place the bags into a sous vide and cook at 62ºC (140ºF) for 48 hours.

Second side note on sous vide: The long cooking times involved in a lot of sous vide cooking is a real bonus to any serious cook (or even to a cook who laughs a lot). Once the preparation for this dish is done and they are in the bath, you have two days during which you don’t need to even think about them. That gives one lots of opportunity to think up other delicious ideas to tempt your diners. 

About an hour before you serve the lamb shanks, get your hands on the side dish ingredients. These are 2 aubergines, 2 tins of tomatoes, a handful of fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Slice the aubergines nice and thick and sprinkle with salt to extract some of the liquid hidden within.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (1 of 5)

The soft flavoured aubergine is a lovely contrast for the lamb.

Let the aubergine sweat and then mop the water from them with kitchen paper. Slice them in half and arrange them in a roasting pan. Add the tomatoes and fennel. Season well.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (2 of 5)

This simplest of side dishes is bursting with flavour.

Place this in the oven at 180ºC (360ºF) for between 30 and 40 minutes.

When the lamb shanks are cooked, remove from the bags and place it in tinfoil. Keep these warm.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (4 of 5)

The shanks look very tasty at this stage. They are well cooked and are very appealing.

Pour off the juice from the bags into a frying pan. Add the cornstarch mixture.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (3 of 5)

This liquid has a mountain of flavour. Don’t waste a drop.

Side note on the cornstarch: While we were visiting Stefanover in Amsterdam, (the renowned Sous Vide King of Northern Europe) he showed me the cornstarch trick for making a sauce from sous vide bag juices. It works. If one simply heats the juices, the proteins coagulate and need to be strained, leaving a very flavour rich but very thin colourless gravy. This way one avoids the coagulation and one gets a thick, delicious sauce. 

Heat the mixture until nice and warm. Serve this with the shanks and the aubergine dish. I served them on a bed of celeriac purée. It worked very well.

Spiced lamb shanks sous vide (5 of 5)

That sauce was packed with tasty flavour.

The lamb was delicate enough to eat with a spoon. The flavours were fantastic. If you have a sous vide machine, please give this a go. If you don’t have a sous vide machine, get one. You will not regret it.

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Latest comments
  • OK, you have persuaded me, I will get a sous vide machine – might have to wait for my birthday though 🙂 This looks amazing by the way – as usual.

    • Thanks for that bit of kindness. You will not regret the sous vide.

  • They look delicious. Just for a second I had a vision of lambs peering over your garden wall, like the Millais painting “Christ in the House of His Parents.”

    • If I start the same sort of storm around realism in the arts that that painting prompted, then happy days. Though I didn’t see any sheep peering in the kitchen window as I added the spices….

  • Num num! Shame it’s completely and absolutely too hot for a beautiful rib sticking dinner like this…

    • A pity indeed Kate. It is far from too hot in these parts. It’s been a mixture of cold, wet and windy for the past month.

      • We have the wet and windy, but combined with temperatures in the mid 30s C, it does not make one long for a hot meal, or indeed anything at all in the middle of the day. Roll on April, and the beginning of Autumn!

        • You are confusing me now…

          • Surely not! Our seasons are upside down too. We’re currently in the middle of summer, AKA The Wet in the tropics, since it’s both hot and very, very wet. April is when it’ll start to cool down and get drier, and we’ll have winter June-August, a season more recognisable to northern hemisphericals as summer weather!

          • Now I’m totally confused. At least it’s cold and wet here. I’m used to that. If we got some good weather, I wouldn’t know what to do.

          • 🙂 And by the way, you finally made me look. At an Anova sous vide machine, that is. At least it doesn’t take up as much room as the others. The only downside is the iniquitous postage…

          • Thankfully, my eldest got me mine for Christmas ’14. I know she stretched to get it and the postage was an extra kick in the Christmas decorations, as it were.

            Do it. You won’t regret it.

  • Well shoot, now I guess I am obliged to buy a sous vide machine, huh? Thank goodness for your and Stefan’s tutorials. Lovely lamb shanks!

    • Kathryn, you will never regret it. Neither will the other half (as long as you don’t tell him).

  • Brilliant Conor…looks fantastic! I have been looking at the Anova Precision Cooker. This might just be the push I need to grab one. 🙂

    • The Anova is what I use. Very simple and the results can be spectacular. They can be awful too. But, that’s half the fun.

  • No sous-vide apparatus now, no sous-vide apparatus later: firm decision!! But this is a fabulous recipe – and, as I have said before, my lamb shanks vastly pale compared to your lamb shanks 🙂 ! Picked you would use fennel and caraway before I read the recipe and I just have to try . . and the star anise verily jump out of my pantry cupboard every time I open the door: ‘Me? Yes?’ . . . OK, a couple extra . . . .

    • I suspect it would work no matter if oven roasted or SV.
      Thanks Eha.

  • Great post, Conor. Thanks for the shout out. I really like what you’ve done with the spices, which I haven’t tried with lamb shanks yet. Also like your way of cooking the eggplant. There are some lamb shanks in my sous-vide as I write this on the train to work, waiting for dinner tonight. I think I’ll make a lamb, pea and mint ragù and serve it over pasta.
    PS You should send this post to Anova and land them as a client 😉

    • That sounds delicious. I had venison two ways on Sunday. The SV was outstanding. The daub was pretty good too. Posting next week as the season is ending here. I’ll get after Anova on the Twitter machine!

      • It turned out very nice indeed and I will do a post about it in a minute 🙂

  • These little lamb shanks are a little bite of heaven. Loving the herbs and fresh aromatics in this dish and of course the gravy pour shot.

    • Thanks BAM, I really enjoyed preparing these. They are one of my favourite cuts (as you can see from the number of posts…)

  • This laughing cook is well impressed and the spice blend is tops. A sous vide may be lost on my vegetarian husband but not on the rest of us, I have been hemming and hawing for a while on that one. Either way, it will have to wait a tad, as our 41 degrees day tomorrow certainly doth not calleth for more than full immersion in the pool and calling for a cold glass of wine and a salad. (Which I won’t get unless I get out and get it myself. First world problem.)

    • God help you in that heat. I can appreciate why you would not want to be cooking anything. Perhaps vacuum the meat and take it into the pool with you. It will cook anyway!

  • Those of us who live au dessus la vide can only imagine the joy of being below it:)

    • I’ve been running on empty for years, or so it seems.

  • I’ve never used a sous vide but I’ll forever be curious about how different food tastes when it emerges from the sealed slow cook. These shanks look divine and I’m in love with the flavours you infused into the meat. As for getting a sous vide? Hm. Not sure I can afford one *just* yet but I might try your recipe basics with a sealed oven slow cook (don’t slap me!)

    • Hi Laura,
      I might have had to slap you with the sous vide machine. But, lamb shanks are so delicious slow cooked anyway, I would forgive you. If you are doing this in a slow cooker, use more spices. Same mix just more of them.
      Best as ever,

      • Haha. Maybe the slap is justifiable as they definitely seem like a worthy investment. But…. hm. I think I’ll take your tips on board regarding the slow cooker first! Thumbs up, thanks Conor!

  • One day I’m going to also drink the sous vide juice. It will be so good. Hi Conor… this looks tender and delicious. cheers, wendy

    • Where have you been Wendy? I have missed you on the Interweb. The bag juices are very tasty, I can confirm.

  • Looks very delicious. I had to look up sous vide. Very interesting. Lovely article, it has gotten me hungry.


    • Thanks. The sous vide is great fun and produces some pretty spectacular results. I have also produced some shoe leather from it. Such is culinary life.

  • This looks absolutely delicious, Conor. I’m still not going to buy sous-vide equipment but you and Stefan are getting much better at promoting the machines. 🙂

    • Thanks John,
      I think it’s time I was paid a commission. Though your blatant, public rejection of my overtures will make it more difficult.

  • I can foretell the future, Conor, did I ever told you? (Tense joke there.) I can see me buying a sous vide cooker. I can see myself using it once. I can see myself being inordinately proud of myself for using it successfully. And then I can see it gathering dust while I languish in reproachful laziness. Handily, having run the full gamut of sous vide emotion in just one premonition, I can happily go without now. On another note, I love the new look of the blog.

    • Ta very muchley. I tweaked the fonts instead of enduring the trauma of changing theme.
      I suspect that if I had changed theme, the blog would have ended up like your foreseen sous vide machine.

  • I tried this with a leg of lamb today because I was intrigued by your, to me, unusual spice mixture and your vegetable side dish. I also wanted to try the tip with the cornmeal. Everything worked perfectly. The meat was beautifully tender and tasty and the gravy great. The aubergines well worth trying with other dishes as well. Thank you very much again.

    • Thanks for that Martin. You don’t know how good it makes me feel to have my recipes tried (successfully). The simple veg dish worked very well.

  • Hi, I’m new to your blog and I’m very glad to have found it! The cornflour trick is so obvious I feel like an idiot for not thinking of it for myself, but I do have a thing for clear, clean-looking sauces so do you think arrowroot or gelatin would have the same anti-coagulant effect? Or I could just try them…..

    I’m impressed by your persistence in the face so much sous vide machine negativity. I’ve been cooking sous vide for a couple of years now and, about a year ago, I’d had enough of the displacement-method-in-a-stockpot-with-thermometer setup and bought a cheap machine on eBay along with a standard vacuum sealer. I use it at least three times a week and now I’m about to fork out several hundred pounds on a quality machine and a vacuum chamber. Because I can no longer envision a kitchen without them!

    So, to those people who think they’ll use it once then stick it in the attic I say “You couldn’t be any wronger! Throw caution to the winds; find a cheap starter sous vide machine and see where it takes you. You’ll never look back”.

    • Thanks indeed for those kind words. The sous vide produces some incredible results across meat, poultry, fish and vegetables. There will always be those who are happy to boo from the sideline. I prefer to play my part in this particular part of the game of life.
      On the sauce end of things, I suspect the arrowroot would be very similar to the cornflower. The gelatine is an experiment I must try. Good thinking.
      Thanks so much for the kind words.

  • Sorry, but this recipe was pretty much of a disaster. After the first bite, the comments were “this is terrible…. Something is wrong with the meat…..the sauce is sour and thin and lacks body.” I am afraid I agree with all of them. Although I have had some success with sous-vide in the past, this was definitely not one of them.

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