Sweet, sour, salty, spicy and subtly citrusy, this dish of braised lamb shanks are seasoned and flavored with ingredients of Vietnamese mixed fish sauce.
The meat itself, despite the pallid appearance, is a treasure trove of flavors and textures. Interspersed in the tender meat are strands of gelatinous tendon. And, after braising for two and a half hours, the gamey smell of lamb was hardly discernible. Instead, the lamb shanks smelled and tasted of garlic, citrusy lemongrass and ginger.
The sheer amount of fish sauce that went into the cooking liquid should give you a good idea that the salty component of the flavors goes beyond the brininess of salt. The heat of the chilies, while still quite distinct, has lost much of its sharpness as the chilies melded with the sugar.
Sliced raw chilies and torn mint leaves are added to garnish the lamb shanks. Yes, they do make the plain meat look bright and gorgeous, but they aren’t there for decoration alone. Mint has long been considered to be a partner of lamb for a reason. With every forkful of meat, the mint gives the mouth a fresh and cool sensation that is hard to describe but easy to understand once experienced.
Braised Lamb Shanks
- 2 lamb shanks total weight about 1 kilogram
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 large onion thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic lightly pounded
- 1 one-inch knob ginger thinly sliced
- 3 stalks lemongrass (only the lower portion of the stalks; measure three inches from the root), minced after discarding outer layers
- 5 bird’s eye chilies thinly sliced
- 3 cups bone broth
- 3 to 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
- cooked rice to serve
- mint leaves to garnish
- Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towels.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wide shallow pan.
- Over high heat, brown the lamb shanks, rolling them in the hot oil to brown as much of the surface as possible.
- Lift out the lamb shanks and move to a plate.
- Lower the heat to medium. In the remaining oil, saute the onion, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and three of the chilies until softened.
- Put the lamb shanks back in the pan. Pour in the broth and fish sauce. Stir in the sugar. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for two to two and a half hours.
- When the shanks are done, assemble the the dish.
- Spread rice on a serving platter and arrange the lamb shanks on top of the rice.
- Stir the lime or lemon juice into the cooking liquid then spoon the liquid, along with the aromatics, over the meat. Sprinkle in the mint leaves and remaining chilies.
- Serve the braised lamb shanks hot.