Lamb Shanks with Olives

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Lamb shanks benefit from long, slow cooking, as in this braise where they are paired with olives. If you can’t find anchovy-stuffed green olives, add 3 anchovy fillets, mashed, along with the onions, and use any kind of olives you like.



Available year-round (frozen).


Select lamb with bright pink meat, pink bones, and white fat. Dark red bones and meat indicate older meat (mutton). Most lamb is tender because it comes from a young animal, but each cut requires its own method of cooking. If you are looking forward to lamb stew or roast leg of lamb, you will need to choose the correct cut.

Shoulder and shank: These flavorful cuts need long, slow cooking, such as braising or stewing. The best stew meat comes from the shoulder and neck.

Leg: You can buy whole or half legs with or without the shank, or you can buy a boneless leg, which can be cooked as is or cut into cubes for kebabs. Grill or roast this cut.

Loin: The most tender cut of all, the loin is usually divided into “classic” lamb chops. It is best panfried or grilled.

Ribs: These are sold two ways, as a rack or as individual chops. Chops are ideally panfried or grilled, while racks can be seared on the stove top and then transferred to a 350°F oven to finish cooking.


When you get the lamb home, remove the original packaging and wrap tightly with plastic wrap and then slip into a zippered plastic bag. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and in the freezer for up to 6 months.


Remove large cuts of lamb, such as a leg, from the refrigerator an hour or so before cooking, to bring them to room temperature. This will help ensure even cooking, especially for cuts that will be cooked by a dry-heat method, such as roasting or grilling. The fell (the thin, parchmentlike membrane that covers some lamb cuts) can cause smaller cuts to curl during cooking. To remove it, slip a flexible, thin-bladed knife between the fell and the meat and carefully trim it away.

A great way to bone a leg of lamb is to remove the hip bone, then tunnel out and remove the center bone without splitting the leg. Leave the shank bone in place for shape and ease of carving. Tie the boned portion of the lamb with kitchen string so it keeps its shape.

Guide to Roasting Lamb:

Use an instant-read thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it into the thickest part of the meat away from the bone. Always allow a roast to rest for 15 minutes before carving so that the meat can reabsorb some of the juices. The meat will continue to cook and the temperature will rise another 5°F to 10°F, depending on the size of the cut. Meat is cooked rare, or deep pink, at 125°F; medium-rare, or pink, at 130°F; and medium, or grayish pink, at 140°F.


Cooking Methodbraising


Total Timeunder 4 hours

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Texturemeaty, salty, winey


  • 4 lamb shanks
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh or canned plum tomatoes
  • 1½ cups dry red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup anchovy-stuffed green olives
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Liberally season the lamb shanks allover with salt and pepper.

  2. In a large, heavy enameled cast-iron or other nonreactive pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches to prevent crowding, add the lamb shanks and cook, turning them as needed, until browned allover, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove the shanks from the pot and set aside.

  3. Add the onions and garlic to the oil remaining in the pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, and bay leaves, raise the heat to high, and boil until the liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 10 minutes.

  4. Return the lamb shanks to the pot and add the olives. Cover, place in the oven, and cook until the lamb is nearly falling off the bones, 2 to 3 hours.

  5. Remove the bay leaves, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a warmed serving platter or individual plates. Garnish with the parsley and serve.


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