Join me in my kitchen for an easy autumn favorite made from local, organic and homegrown ingredients.
Today’s real food lunch is a braised grassfed lamb shank with mint and delicata squash. Unlike most people, my main meal is lunch rather than dinner. That can pose a problem, since lunch transects my workday, but luckily I work from home. For those who don’t work from home, this may be a delicious dinner or weekend brunch.
Lamb shank with mint and delicata squash
First of all, the meat. If you are going to eat meat at all, you need to make sure it is:
- 100% grassfed and grass finished…no grains
- Pasture raised
- No hormones, subtheraputic antibiotics, additives, growth enhancing drugs
What do I mean by “local?” This particular lamb shank comes from a small family owned ranch 28 miles from my home.
I once went to a Whole Foods Market butcher counter and asked if they had any local beef. The butcher pointed out several options, and when I asked him where they came from, he answered, “California.” Many of the farms he was calling “local” were actually very far away. After all, California is larger than many small countries.
What is notable is that I live in the middle of gorgeous pastures with many nearby ranches that are famous for their pasture raised, humanely treated, 100% grassfed beef. Why should I buy beef from distant farms? This is an illustration of why you must do your homework and ask questions until you get a clear answer. There is no legal definition for “local.” Make sure your butcher knows what he is talking about.
Today I have a gorgeous lamb shank from a farm in Valley Ford. When it comes to meat, it’s best to salt it generously the day before you intend to cook it. Yesterday I ground up some sea salt and black peppercorns in my mortar and seasoned the shank.
Since this is just a solo lunch for me, I’m using a simpler, no fuss method of cooking this lamb shank. It doesn’t involve nearly as many ingredients or steps as traditional recipes, and is geared toward lunch for one.
Ingredients and cost
My lamb shank cost just under $8. The other ingredients are as follows:
- Delicata squash: free, I grew it in my garden
- Fresh mint, chives and parsley: free, from my pot of herbs growing on my balcony
- Grated lemon peel: from a potted Meyer lemon tree, growing on my balcony
- 6 oz beef stock: home made, from pasture raised, 100% grassfed gelatinous beef bones (bone broth). About $1.
- Carrot: free from the garden.
This lunch cost me $9. A burrito from the local Mexican restaurant costs $8.75. Of course, I saved a lot of money by using herbs and veggies from my own garden. That is something to think about. If you have a patch of land, or even a deck or balcony, grow something.
- Heat oven to 300 F
- In a covered pan or pot, brown the shank well in olive oil. Remove from pot.
- Cut squash and carrot into large chunks and brown in the same pot.
- Place lamb in a ceramic roasting pot, small Dutch oven, clay pot or tagine. Place large sprig of mint and a couple sprigs of parsley on top.
- Place squash and carrot around the sides.
- Add home made beef stock. I used 6 oz.
- Cover tightly and place in the oven on the middle rack.
- Roast for two hours.
- Increase oven temp to 400 F, remove the lid and cook for additional 10-15 minutes. Check it after ten minutes, you don’t want it to dry out completely.
- Chop some fresh parsley, mint and chives, and mix with finely grated lemon zest (use a microplane grater for best results).
- Remove large sprigs of mint and parsley from the roast. Plate your lamb and veggies, and sprinkle with the fresh chopped herbs/lemon zest.
If you taste it and find you need more salt, make a mental note to salt your meat more generously next time. You can easily adjust this at the table with a light sprinkling of really nice sea salt. I like smoked Celtic sea salt from Halen Mon.
Cutting corners, making substitutions
I chose to use delicata squash and carrots because that is what was available from my garden. You can use any yellow fleshed squash. Pumpkin is delicious, as is butternut or carnival squash.
Want to use different herbs? I chose mint because it is clean and goes very well with not only the richness of the lamb, but also the slight sweetness of the squash. If you are going to use a more savory, pungent herb like rosemary instead of mint, you can do that, but you may need to add shallots or garlic to balance it out.
If you are thinking about using store bought beef stock, please just eat a sandwich instead. No one should be eating store bought stock or broth, ever.
My beef stock is thick and gelatinous. That is because it was made from bones that were full of marrow and gelatinous tissues. It’s different than just using soup bones.
The resulting stock is filled with collagen, which is really good for you. It also creates an unbelievably unctuous sauce, or reduction, which is what is left after taking the lid off and roasting for a little while at a higher temperature. There is nothing like it, and you cannot compromise on this.
Some recipes for lamb shanks call for you to dredge the meat in flour before browning it. It is an attempt to thicken the liquids that are later added. In this method, there is no need to add thickeners. The end result is an incredibly rich, thick reduction…just enough should be left to coat the lamb and veggies. Not too much (it will be soupy, otherwise) and not too little (which would make it dry). This reduction is the result of one thing only: top quality home made beef stock made from gelatinous joint bones.
So if you have the nasty thought of using store bought stock, just repent and go eat something else. Once you have some good stock in the freezer, then it’s time to make this dish.
What I love about this dish
It’s autumn, and this is a warm hearty lunch (or dinner) that features seasonal, fresh and local ingredients. Some are very local, since I picked them from my garden today.
The mint in this dish is just perfect. You’ll notice I don’t add a bunch of garlic or onions or other aromatic herbs or spices. There is no wine or alcohol in this dish. The combination of the mint, the clean, rich lamb, the gelatinous stock and the slightly sweet vegetables are perfect, and is made just slightly brighter by the sprinkling of fresh herbs and lemon zest.
It may seem like it takes a long time to cook this dish, but not really. Yes, there is the cooking time, but most of that is in the oven, and it doesn’t require a lot of vigilance. So while this is cooking, you are free to do something else. I put this in the oven at 10am, and it was done at 12:15. Meanwhile, I was at my desk working while the house slowly filled with the warm aroma of delicious roasting lamb. What a life!
Learn more about how to choose humane, healthy and sustainably raised meat here.