by Randy King
The less-than-tender cuts of meat, like the lamb shank which is cut from what is essentially the forearm or the calf muscle, often intimidate home cooks.
These lean cuts of meat have a lot of connective tissue in them and require a slow and moist method of cooking to be palatable. Luckily someone was smart enough to invent the Crock-Pot. Classically, this kind of slow, moist cooking is referred to as braising.
When I cook shanks—most often it's venison—I toss them into the Crock-Pot before leaving for work in the morning. When I get home, the house smells great, and the meat is undoubtedly tender.
Below are some quick and easy steps to cook shanks and enjoy these flavorful, if not tender, cuts of meat.
Step No. 1: Brown the meat: Put it in the oven on broil for 10 minutes, then turn the oven to 500 degrees and let the shanks cook for 15 minutes. The brown color is important for flavor development. When the shanks are brown, add them to a pre-heated Crock-Pot. Deglaze the roasting pan with stock or wine to get the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and add that to the Crock-Pot.
Step No. 2: Season the shanks with whatever sounds good. In this case I used a citrus, cinnamon and apple combination. Other great flavors include Mexican mole, curry and red wine. Then make sure the meat is almost completely covered in some type of chicken or beef stock.
Step No. 3: Make sure you have a good seal on the Crock-Pot and leave it alone for a full eight hours. When you get home you can enjoy the shanks, but they are even better the next day. If you can wait, let the shanks cool in the braising juices and then reheat them the next day. The flavors will have had time to combine and will enhance the whole dish.