Braised Lamb Shanks, Grilled Polenta Sandwiches Recipe

Souris d'Agneau Confites, Sandwiches de Polenta

[Braised Lamb Shanks, Grilled Polenta Sandwiches]

…and this is part III of the dinner I served on Saturday, when I was (at long last) given the opportunity to meet Derrick and Melissa, dear friends from the Blogosphere now happily upgraded to dear friends from the Real World.

After a lively chat going in ten different directions — we were so excited to finally meet, where were we to start? — over a nice appetizer of crostini and anchoïade at the bar, Melissa, Derrick, Maxence and I sat down to the main course: lamb shanks, slowly cooked in the oven in a red wine and mushroom sauce, and served with sandwiches of grilled polenta squares.

In French, lamb shanks are called souris d’agneau, which literally means “lamb mice”, most probably because of their shape. Be it for the cuteness of the name or the tenderness of the cut, souris d’agneau is a favorite of mine I often fall for in restaurants.

This was my first time cooking it myself though, and the first hurdle to hop through was procurement: since la souris is the tip of le gigot (leg of lamb, a noble cut), the butcher will only sell them to you if he is sure to sell the rest, which will then be called gigot raccourci (shortened leg of lamb) and is ordered by people for whom the whole leg is a bit much.

I knew from Pascale that Picard, the life-saving frozen food store, sold lamb shanks and that they were quite good, but I thought — this is Derrick. And Melissa. I can’t serve them frozen meat, now can I? No. Nothing but fresh would do, and I ended up having to call and negociate with three different butchers (and yes, I did it all from the office, going out onto the terrace for a little butcher-calling privacy).

The first one didn’t do souris at all. I hung up. The second one thought for a bit (I could hear the furrowing of his brow over the line) and said “Four? I can’t do four. I can sell you one, but not four.” Um, okay. Let me think about it and call you back when I have just one person to feed. Thankfully the trusted Boucherie des Gourmets came to the rescue, not even blinking at the request (or I would have heard). They wrote down my order, and the next day I went to collect my four beauties.

The recipe here is inspired from a cookbook called Recettes Mijotées by Joanne Glynn, which is in fact an Australian book, originally titled Slow cooking. It includes slow-cooking recipes from all over the world and is lovely to look at. I’ve had it for over a year (we got it for our friend Ludo’s birthday, but I liked it so much we bought a copy for ourselves, too), but this was my first time trying anything from it — you know how it is, so many cookbooks, so little time.

I made a few minor adjustments to the recipe, using mushrooms where the author called for red peppers (I wanted to use those fabulous fresh mushrooms from the market) and changing a few of the ingredients and amounts here and there, just because I can’t help it. But since I have a lot to learn when it comes to meat cooking, her instructions as to the general process were most helpful, and everything went perfectly according to plan. I’m always impressed by slow-cooking and how magical it feels: you simply combine ingredients, close the lid or the oven door, cross your fingers and let the heat do the work!

With this I served grilled polenta squares, skewered into sandwiches with Italian cherry tomatoes in the middle: I adore polenta, I knew from last time that polenta and lamb worked well as a team, and the sandwiching sounded fun — the idea came to me while sitting in a particularly lengthy meeting during which my mind had escaped to the wonderful world of menu-planning and recipe invention, where everyone is happy and eats really well.

I was delighted with the appetizing look and the deep flavors of this dish, the moist meat having slow-cooked until you hardly needed a knife to cut it, the fragrant sauce thickened to a velvety consistency, and the grilled polenta squares being their usual crispy-outside-tender-inside selves. Maxence and my guests confirmed, both with and without words, that they shared my pleasure.

With this we drank a 2001 Corbières, a delicious wine from the Languedoc, as recommended by my wine seller after I carefully explained what the recipe was like, what went into it and what I would be serving it with — the pairing worked beautifully.

Souris d’agneau confites

– 4 lamb shanks (souris d’agneau)
– 3 onions, peeled and sliced
– 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
– one bottle of strong red wine (Côte-du-Rhône for instance)
– one 14-oz (400g) can of good-quality diced tomatoes
– 1 lbs (500g) fresh brown mushrooms (champignons de Paris), feet cut, hats brushed carefully till clean and sliced
– 1 Tbsp whole coriander seeds, toasted to bring out their flavor
– 1 Tbsp whole cumin seeds, toasted to bring out their flavor
– 1 Tbsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on the strength of your flakes and your tolerance to the spicy)
– 2 Tbsp honey
– fresh cilantro
– olive oil
– salt

The day before, combine the onions and garlic, the lamb and the wine in a large pan with a lid (a cast-iron cocotte is ideal), cover and leave in the refrigerator to marinate.

The next day, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

Remove the meat from the marinade and set it aside. Strain the marinade, keep the liquids in a large mixing-bowl, and set the onions and garlic aside.

Heat some olive oil in the pan, and brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat and set aside.

Add the onions, garlic and mushrooms into the pan and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes, or until the onion is soft. Sprinkle the vegetables with the coriander, cumin and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine. Add in the meat and season with salt.

Combine the canned tomatoes and honey with the reserved marinade, and pour into the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and put into the oven for two hours. Halfway into the baking, take the pan out of the oven, flip the meat to ensure even cooking, and return into the oven for another hour.

Remove the pan from the oven and the meat from the pan, set aside and cover with foil to keep warm. Put the pan, lid off, over medium-high heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and reduced by half. Return the meat into the sauce, cover, and cook for another fifteen minutes to reheat thoroughly.

Transfer into a warmed up serving platter, sprinkle with fresh cilantro leaves and serve immediately, or serve from the pan. This can be made ahead and reheated just before serving.

Sandwiches de polenta grillée

– 9oz (250g) stone-ground polenta
– 1/3 C good-quality canned cherry tomatoes (Italian grocery stores are a good source for that)

Cook the polenta according to package instructions. Transfer immediately into a square or rectangular baking dish, smooth out the surface and let cool. The polenta will firm up as it cools.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (440°F). Cut eight even squares in the polenta, and transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put into the oven to bake for ten minutes, flip the squares and return into the oven for another ten minutes, until the squares are crusty and golden.

While this bakes, heat the cherry tomatoes in a small saucepan. Sandwich the polenta squares two by two with a tablespoon of cherry tomatoes in between, and secure with a wooden sandwich pick. Serve immediately. (The sandwiches can be assembled in advance, and reheated in the oven just before serving.)

  • Can I come over for dinner?

  • Oh, I like that recipe for the lamb shanks, I would imagine that I could even use that combo for beef (lamb is sometimes hard to find in the States). I often use these “slow cooking” recipes, convert them and make them in my pressure cooker for an elegant after work treat.

  • I did a search for that book, Simply Slow Cooking and found that it was out of print and unavailable, even used. In further searching I sound the book was renamed “Slow Cooking – Not So Fast Food” and was republished in 2004 as a hardcover with another publishing in Sept 2005 as a softcover.

    Regardless it’s still not easy to find. Is it worth the trouble?

    • Kathleen

      Try for both new and secondhand books. I found the book in stock at a range of places.

  • Meg

    Thanks for clearing up the minor mystery of what exactly a souris d’agneau is, Clotilde! It sounds delicious and well worth the hassle of harrassing butchers…

  • Nic

    Incredible! I’m jealous of Derrick and Melissa for getting to feast on this amazing dish. I wish I could get better cuts of lamb near my house in the states!

  • Alisa

    This sounds so so good. I too am a fan of polenta. Somehow I had missed you last post in December, so now I have two new lamb recipes to try.
    I have made two slow roasted leg of lambs, since being in Paris-one purchased from a high end butcher, and the other from Picard. As much as I love Picard, the frozen leg of lamb just wasn’t up to snuff. Good instincts on your part!

    P.S. That awful clanging sound, when someone does blink an eye is deafening, isn’t it?

  • nicole

    Lamb shanks are also one of my favs. In Australia, coming into winter and rain, they are perfect at the moment.

    We can buy them fresh in my local supermarket in Perth, about $6 -7 for 2 large ones. so a cheap meal and worth the time cooking them.

    Other things that work well with shanks are fresh quinces, and other spices like tumeric and ginger added. If you don’t have much time bake them for an hour with tinned tomato, red wine, fresh herbs and after 20 minutes thicken the sauce with red lentils. Bake for a total of one hour or until tender. Makes a great easy, cooks itself, dinner while you do you chores, or enjoy a glass of wine. Your choice.

    thanks for an very fun and interesting blog.


  • Sounds absolutely delicious! I would have used the mushrooms, too. Great suggestion.
    Love your blog!

  • Monica

    Richard AB, WHERE in the US do you have a hard time finding lamb????

  • Carl

    I can see couscous being a nice side dish to this main meal…or maybe several slices of rustic bread…maybe a miche to wipe up the gravy?

  • Nico

    That sounds fantastic! Perfect meal for the beginning of a New Zealand winter…
    And your descriptions are always so cute! I love your escape to the land of menu-planning – it’s good to have somewhere to go in the midst of dull meetings!

  • Your papounet

    For Richard AB, and other interested parties : you can still get the 2003 hardcover edition (London Murdoch), second-hand, for something between 31 and 37 US dollars.

    Here’s my magic tool, often used and most efficient :

    This is a meta-search tool for books, new and old, exploring many different sites, not just the famous Abebooks or Alibris.
    Try it with Joanne Glynn, and just type “slow” for the title.

    Hurry up, there’s just a handful of volumes for sale currently…

  • Gayle

    For those of you in the states, a very good cookbook on slow cooking published last year is: All About Braising by Molly Stevens. I’ve made several recipes and was more than pleased with all of them. She suggests wine pairings with each recipe.
    I’m new to this site and LOVE it. Wonderful descriptions! Thank you!

  • I too cooked lamb shanks this week! I love them — easily available here in NYC, economical, rich and full of flavor. I did them with a Middle Eastern spice blend, some tomato and red wine as well, lots of garlic and onion, and then roast eggplant and zucchini added at the end for veg. As Carl suggested, couscous is a great accompaniment.

  • Miss Lisa

    oooo, yum!! loooove the lamb (Australian :)) great recipe, going to get the book, yummo! The pic is so cute, they’re such lovely little lamb shanks, I’m used to big old Aussie lambs, the shanks are usually big enough to be used as a mini-roast if you’re not up to buying the whole thing … as for fresh vs frozen … fresh lamb is wonderful, my favourite meat, but frozen usually works just as well for most recipes, just make sure when you freeze it it’s well wrapped and frozen as quickly as possible ie it hasn’t warmed up much on the trip home from the butcher.

    the Le Creuset site used to have an amazing lamb shank & honey with white beans casserole recipe … one of my winter standards, well worth a go.

  • Florence

    Merci Clotilde pour cette nouvelle recette très “inspirante” et pour ce blog qui n’a qu’un défaut : j’y passe toujours beaucoup plus de temps que celui dont je dispose vraiment lorsque je m’y connecte!!
    Ayant vécu aux US, où mes parents vivent encore plus de la moitié de l’année, et recevant régulièrement des magazines de cuisine américains, tout en étant une ultra-gourmande bien française très attachée à mon marché local, je me retrouve beaucoup dans ce blog, c’est un vrai plaisir. Merci encore!

  • fanny Potkin

    I have been reading your blog for several months and i adore it !
    This meal sounds great and i can’t wait to see what you cooked up for the dessert .

  • Jane

    It is getting cold in Sydney and was going to make lamb shanks tonight after a big haul at the organic grocer am doing them with dried cherries, roasted shallots, and some precious new kooyong pinot-also have heard adding a tablespoon or so of good balsamic helps the meat break down. Maybe cause we eat so much lamb here in oz mine were only fourteen aussie dollars for three organic shanks…loved the polenta sandwiches idea-but think I am going mash with parsnips tonight….

  • I had the lamb shanks from Picard recently when my father was in town. He was amazed how good they were considering they were frozen food. I do love Picard.

  • *rolls his tongue back in*

  • Elegant Sniff

    I made this (well, my partner made it with my help!) and it is wonderful! We were a little unsure of the lamb shanks, but live in the UK in sheep country and have a great local butcher so… Thanks, Clotilde, for the very clear instructions and the perfect recipe. We’ve made it twice so far. We are new to cassoroles/stews (bad, bad childhood memories for us both, being English!), and are inspired by the success of this dish to try your beef and beer recipe…

  • I thought of your nice story Clothilde, tonight, while I cook some lamb shanks. I remembered enjoying it then and now looking at the date I realize that it is from all the way back to 2005. Where has the time gone? I also had a similar conundrum for lamb shanks the first few times I got them. Once I had my source I was golden. You know, knowing where to get things is one of the most important things about running a good kitchen.

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