Lamb Shank and Bean Casserole – Failing to Impress the Diners.

Lamb Shank CasseroleI’m a positive person who looks on the bright side whenever there is an opportunity.  I don’t often set out to write about failure. I do take a bit of pride in what I do. Even though my inclination is to hide my light under a bushel, I really hate to leave you unimpressed.

I will, in fact, try my best to do right by you. I want to make an impact. But this exercise of producing a Lamb Shank and Bean Casserole started out badly. I stopped into a major supermarket to get the shanks. I won’t name them so they can hide their shame. The meat section is very large with many chaps dressed in red aprons swanking around, in a butcherly way, behind the counter. I approached and was served.

Me (In usual cheery form): “Good morning. Could I have seven lamb shanks please?”

GDAAB (Guy dressed as a butcher): “No, they aren’t available any more.”

Me (Slightly taken aback): “Not available? What are the sheep doing?”

GDAAB (As if explaining to a small child): “No, they are attached to the shoulder and are no longer available as shanks.” 

Me (In a strategic move to preserve my good humour): Thank you. Have a good day.”

I left the supermarket, crossed the road, went into a butcher’s shop, pointed to the cabinet and said: “Could I have seven of those please?” The butcher obliged. I had my shanks. The supermarket experience for all the “retail theatre” failed to impress.

I got the rest of my ingredients (in a different supermarket) and repaired to the kitchen.

Seven "unavailable" lamb shanks and the rest of the ingredients.

Seven “unavailable” lamb shanks and the rest of the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 7 lamb shanks (if available and if cooking for seven)
  • 3 onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • 2 tins of butter beans
  • 2 tins of black-eyed peas
  • 1 tin of kidney beans
  • 500 ml of good chicken stock
  • 3 teaspoons of tomato purée
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • Salt and pepper

I made this using the ‘holy trinity’ of Italian soups and stews onion, carrot and celery. The first thing to do is to slice these and get them into a little oil in the casserole.

That is a lot of onion. Though, it's nothing to cry about.

That is a lot of onion. Though, it’s nothing to cry about.

Regular readers like to have a gratuitous meat slicing shot every now and then. While there is lots of meat in this, there is no slicing so you will have to make do with a vegetarian substitute.

Gratuitous celery slicing shot. One to get the vegetarians into a sweat.

Gratuitous celery slicing shot. One to get the vegetarians into a sweat.

Sweat them over a low heat until the onions are translucent and the celery and carrots have a nice high colour.

Whoever said "Don't sweat the small stuff" never cooked a stew like this.

Whoever said “Don’t sweat the small stuff” never cooked a stew like this.

While this is going on, add a little oil to a pan and brown the shanks on as many sides as you can.

They are pretty big shanks. 3 to a pan was the best I could do.

They are pretty big shanks. 3 to a pan was the best I could do.

Add the shanks to the casserole. Then add everything else except the peas and beans. Season it well with salt and pepper.

This pic is just in case you don't know how to place a shank in a casserole.

This pic is just in case you don’t know how to place a shank in a casserole.

It doesn’t matter what order you oik the stuff in. Just get it in there.

The tomatoes have a lovely high red colour. There is no other reason for the photo.

The tomatoes have a lovely high red colour. There is no other reason for the photo.

Side note on tinned tomatoes: Based on my experience, use whole tomatoes, even when you want chopped. The chopped tomatoes tend to be very watery and tasteless when compared to the whole tomatoes. “Just sayin” as they say. 

I know how much you love a good pouring shot.

Now, that's a good gloopy chicken stock. Packed with flavour.

Now, that’s a good gloopy chicken stock. Packed with flavour.

Bring this to a boil on the stove top then transfer to a 150º C (300º F) oven for five hours. Take it out of the oven and spoon some of the fat off the surface. The shanks release a good deal of fat.

Side note on fat removal: You can leave the fat there if you choose. It will not add a lot to the flavour of the stew but it will add a lot to the lining of your arteries and may even clog up your heart to an unacceptable degree. Take my advice, spoon off the fat.

Then add the beans and peas.

There was barely enough room in my casserole for all the beans.

There was barely enough room in my casserole for all the beans.

Return the casserole to the oven for another 30 minutes or so. Then serve to your hungry guests.

Here’s where I really failed to impress. I chose a bowl and tablecloth to show off the casserole to its best advantage. I really failed on photographing this one.

What was I thinking? What a crappy photograph!

What was I thinking? What a crappy photograph!

I served the six others and ate my own dinner too. It was pretty delicious. Later that evening, I was processing my photos and was feeling pretty angry at having made such a mess of that final shot. In a self-serving and futile effort to make it right I asked eldest daughter for her opinion. “It’s awful” was her response to my plea. She then laughed and said that was a good thing. “Good! Why?” I blurted. “Because you will have to cook it again to get the photo.” was her laughed reply.

So I ‘failed to impress’, no matter what way you read it. I hope you are impressed with my re-cook and re-photo below.

Hopefully not failing to impress with this photo.

Hopefully not failing to impress with this photo.

As long as sheep continue to have legs, this will be a very easy to prepare (if not so easy to photo) dish. The meat was so tender, that I ate mine with the spoon in the picture. Try it and I guarantee you won’t fail to impress.

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  • Mmmm, lamb shanks. What a shame everyone knows about them now and they’re so much more expensive than they used to be. A worthwhile outlay though to produce something like this (twice). Such dedication 🙂 L x

    • They now retail at about €5 each, depending upon butcher. At that, they are reasonable value. though, when one can buy a leg for €25, perhaps not so great. They do taste delicious.

  • I’m a lamb shank fan. How could I not be? Welsh man and all, even though I do pretend not to be with my accent… Looks delicious!

    • How could you not be Nick? The accent doesn’t come through on the interweb….

  • Wow! Looks amazing.

  • So, it’s confirmed. Your failures look and taste better than our successes. Bah, humbug!

    • Don’t be like that Kate. It is better to try and to fail than to never try at all, or some such like.

  • Earlier this year I saw James Martin cooking lamb shanks he quoted as being less than £1 each. It prompted me to cook them that evening in a very similar fashion to yours. However, my local supermarket did stock them, but charged about £5 (€6) a piece. I guess I should have gone to the butchers as well.
    A classic, possibly even one of the great winter-warmer dishes. The re-photo does look a lot better too. Nice work Conor.

    • He is pulling your shank, if that doesn’t sound too rude Adam. I have seen them for €6 here. However, one needs to choose one’s butcher wisely. Possibly the shanks are from the fore legs are £1 each. At that, they are bad value.

  • I love the pot in the photo you’re not happy with! I also love the recipe…. And your story is exactly why I only buy from a proper butcher now a days!

    • Thanks Melissa, I was given two of them and have a bowl too. Perhaps I can build a proper set. It’s Arklow Pottery, the Indian Tree pattern. Arklow is a town about a long bike ride (very long) from my home. The bowls are older than I.

      • I know Arklow well! I’m sure my Nana has bowls very similar…. Very pretty!

        • And I know Arklow, my sister lived there for years. The town is not as pretty as the dinnerware.

  • GDAAB was just being silly. Looks delicious.

    • Thanks Rosemary. I have a post to follow in a couple of weeks about the GDAAB. I don’t hold back. Should be fun.

  • You went the whole hog(get) by going back and cooking it again – it does look better in a bowl 😉
    I’m lucky having a butcher that sells almost all meat cheaper than the supermarkets and if I want something unusual he’ll go out of his way to try and find it.

    • A real butcher MD. They are not so easy to find now. There used to be one in Blackrock village, near my home, that had a sign “Pleased to meet you. Meat to please you.” A simple but well thought out corporate strategy.

      • That sounds like it was a good one – shame it’s gone 🙁

  • Conor, I think posting about failure is a positive thing. It shows that you are human. I myself had huge failure in the kitchen this weekend and intend of posting about it soon… a mushroom quiche that oozed… and oozed a lot….
    This casserole looks amazing! I’ve only eaten lamb once or twice. I need to pursue it in my own kitchen…

    • Imagine serving your quiche alongside my disaster of a lamb shank. Heavenly, I’m sure, as long as one doesn’t look….

      • LOL! 😀

        BTW: I made a beef chili this weekend using your Texas Pork Chili as inspiration. Hands down my best chili yet!

        • Excellent Debbie, I love to hear when my recipes work for somebody else!. I am still experimenting with the various chilis (and with a big supply given to me by eldest daughter’s boyfriend) and I am looking forward to many more lovely meals. Using different types of the real chilis make such a difference.
          Best,
          Conor

          • You are absolutely right! That was the first time I had used dried chilis instead of powder. I was amazed at how much more depth of flavor there was. I look forward to future posts from you to learn more about chilis. Thanks!

  • Butchers here are few and far between! Lucky that you had another spot to go to! I went into the grocery looking for a chuck roast, bone in, and they did not have any with bones. I was told by the butcher, who look like what you described at the grocery you went to, that they can no longer buy that cut with a bone. Something to do with rbST, and how the bovine growth hormone could “possibly make me grow.” Slap the forehead! This looks good, and yes that final shot is truly awful, but the remake looks great! 🙂

    • Thanks for your candour Barb. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I set up and took that shot.
      I have another post on the way that covers the poor butchery standards here.

      • Looking forward to reading that one! The “butcher” at the grocery store told me to buy neck bones to go along with the chuck roast. Wait! Wouldn’t rbST be in those bones too? Huh? 🙂

        • Wait for it. I don’t let them off the butcher’s hook too easily.

  • Beautiful!

    • Thanks Serena,
      The first attempt would not have got that reaction.
      Best,
      C

  • Look forward the butchery post too, I’ve had too many GDAAB failures to bother trying any more! Also re-assuring you have the occasional re-shoot too Conor – I’ve redone a few due to a botched ‘final photo’ attempt. Normally because it’s gone dark outside by the time it’s finished… Loving the lamb dish though.

    • I suffer from the evening light problem too Phil. I now use a combination of an 800 watt equivalent soft box and the on camera flash for fill in. The prep is usually fine during the afternoon with me opening the blinds from around 4:00 pm to get the last bit of natural light. In this case, it was tiredness, rushed plating and just plain old bad photography that did me in.

      • Hmm, may be my next investment then. I’m battling for output a bit at the moment due to our sudden ‘change in circumstances’ so everything is rushed, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things soon….

  • Brilliant stuff as always CB, but why where looking for ‘anything’ like this in a dam Supermarket in the first place!?!?

    • In my naivety, I thought the guys in the stripy coats and pork pie hats might have been able to help. Like I say, naive.

  • I really love lamb, shank and all. You did it mighty fine justice there. It isn’t as popular in the states as it should be, but we make it regularly. Nicely done, and a good photo although I think you are sandbagging us a bit with all of this failure talk!

    • Sandbagging is a lovely Americanism. I promise you, I’m not. Mind you, if I was, I would say that too! Thanks for the very kind words.
      Best,
      Conor

  • True story: When I saw the photo of the finished dish in the reader, I thought “that ‘s an outstanding plated shot, even for Conor”. I bet nobody minded you made it again 🙂 Here lamb shanks are less than €5 I think. You should have saved the bones from the first time around to make lamb stock for the second rendition 😉

    • Thanks for that Stefan. In truth, I am very happy with the second photo. The re-cooking was eased by not having to do all the preparation shots so I was in better order for the all important plated shot. Perhaps I should do each post this way. It would up the quality but cut my schedule in half. Hmmmm….

      • Please don’t, that would raise the bar too high for the rest of us!

  • FELLA!! The only thing you need to be apologising for is going to a Supermarket for shanks with so many independent butchers dotted all over the place. Great dish by the way, yet again a top 10 hit!

    • I take your criticism Rory. It was pretty dumb of me. I will go on to prove the point in a later post. I do think that the butchers are having a disservice done to them by the supermarkets. They present themselves as butchers with big departments full of guys in aprons. But, all they want to do is sell pre-packed meat brought in from the processors. Sad, but true. The customer loses in the end.

      • Totally agree CB, the other side of it is the interaction you get in your local butchers. Take Fenelons in Stillorgan (my local) these guys are genuinely interested in me (and everyone else for that matter) and what I’m gonna do with their prime produce…its a joy to go in there and shoot the breeze with the artisans knowing the quality is faultless!! Supermarkets aint interested, they want your cash full stop.

        • Fenelon’s feature in the next butcher related post. They are good guys, always willing to go out of their way to get the customer what they want or to advise on a better choice.

          • Tell me about it, Harry and Deco are crushing it up there…love having them on my door step! Looking forward the post boyo!

  • Well done in preserving your good humor. This dish looks so so good! I’ve been all about slow cooking thicker stews these days. Saving this one!

    • Do Amanda, It was tasty and with all those pulses, very good for one. I love doing the more fibrous cuts low and slow. I have another go at short ribs and beef cheeks in the pipeline. Both were long cooked and delicious, if you will pardon the self aggrandisement.
      Best,
      Conor

  • Our fancy grocery obviously instructs its employees (undoubtedly called “partners” or “associates” or some such nonsense) to say “that item has been discontinued” rather than just “we don’t get that anymore.” It drives me crazy. Looks delicious! I bet nobody minded having the dish a second time.

    • If an ‘Associate’ told me lamb shanks had been discontinued, there would probably have been a punch up. I should be thankful for small mercies.

  • Hate to tell you I liked the first ‘finished product’ better than the second: one clearly saw it tasted wonderful!! Love this combo – have a tray of two [rather small ones] in my freezer at nearly $A9 . . . so about a little more than than half of that in euros! Ha, ha for lamb in Australia!! ‘My’ fave recipe similar to yours: do reach for a sachet of tomato paste as well to ‘oomph’ it up 🙂 !

    • Good thought Eha. A bit of tomato paste goes a long way in any stew.

  • Oh Conor, I have a “failure” finished dish photo that I *might* post with my next blog later in the week. Family was hungry, I rushed it too much, it looked in focus from my view finder but I didn’t zoom in on the preview like I usually do to make sure it really was in focus. That is so frustrating!!! Plus I usually take several photos, and I only took ONE. And cooking out of this tiny kitchen limits me so much on space and available decent lighting. Not to mention the fact that I have ZERO props in the photo, not even a fork or linen napkin or anything! What was I thinking? Oh right, I wasn’t. The good news is that the family DEVOURED the entire dinner! No leftovers this time around! Anyways, your beautiful lamb shanks recipe is not one to be ignored, and you redeemed yourself handily with the re-take! 🙂

    • It looks like you are re cooking too. Frustrating but a good excuse to cook a delicious dish twice!

  • You should do a chapbook of your ‘side notes’, Conor. Called ‘Tips for People Who Ignore Good Advice’. It’d be a sellout at Christmas. Imagine all the mammies and wives buying them as presents.

  • I was looking forward to this post after you had mentioned it. A delicious sounding meal and I do think that the second photo does really show off your dish. I’m sure your family was pleased with a second meal of lamb shanks and beans. 🙂

    • Thanks Karen. They are asking me to go again. I have to resist in the interest of diversity.

      • I can certainly see why. I might have been tempted to say that your second photo wasn’t good just to get you to make it “one more time”. 😀

  • Holy bejesus man. That looks brilliant. I am impressed. Soooo impressed… Maybe next time you make these you could give me a call? 🙂

  • You can’t beat a good shank, as the actress said to the bishop. As for supermarket butchers, the chap at Tesco in Purley is dead scary – a huge, red haired guy that laughs like a drain and generally terrifies anyone who goes near him. I wait until he walks off and then grab the little Portuguese assistant (‘Quick, a couple of those beef cheeks!’ ‘Que?’ The beef man, the beef! Oh shit, he’s coming back’… and so on)

    • The use of Tesco and Butcher in the same sentence is a bit disturbing.

      • Too right. But not as bad as Tesco and ‘artisnal bread’ which is the latest thing. No really it is. I think I spelled that correctly. Or spelt.

  • You just can’t, i mean won’t ever fail with slow cooking like braising lamb shank….
    looks damn delicious Conor!!!!

  • Looks lovely.
    Your story made me smile I had a similar conversation in our local supermarket about duck. I asked for duck breasts to be told it was seasonal, people only ate duck at Christmas. 😀 I got it from a butcher in town.

    • Excellent! Some of these lads are awful. In fairness to them, they get no training and are dressed up to look like they should know what they are at. It’s no wonder we mistake them for the real deal.
      Thanks for visiting and for the comment. Sometimes, I feel like I’m alone in these experiences.

  • ah Conor we’ll never be able to impress to the same degree unless you inform us about the flourish of parsley!!!!! sounds melt-in-the-mouth and on my to cook list for a long time now, one of these fine days….

  • Now this is a fantastic dish I could pull off too.. once I find those shanks. I didn’t mind your last photo but do like the retake one as well. All food looks good on white plates doesn’t it?

    • Hi Barbara,
      It certainly does. Though my eclectic collection of all sorts of single plates continues to grow as friends and family see plates that I “could use for the blog” and get me one. It’s all good fun.

  • Reblogged this on uvirfarms.

  • Lamb is a personal favorite of mine. Its truly a delight. I’ve tasted countless lamb recipes and that dish never fails to capture the taste I’m always looking for in those kinds of food. Also, it has dozens of health benefits (protein, vitamin B, ETC.)

    • Thanks Marjon,
      I appreciate the kind comment.
      Best,
      Conor

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