Having lived in the west coast Scotland for many years, I came to the conclusion that the best lamb needed to come from the hills and mountains, eat sweet grass and suffer lots of rain. The same is true here, especially if we throw in good breeding and being well fattened.

The lamb that I like best is known as “Hogget”, the late season lamb that is half way to mutton, it tastes fantastic with a strong meaty flavour. To be honest I’m nonplussed by the enthusiasm for new season or spring lamb. Firstly, I abhor the ridiculous early spring prices and frankly find the flavour often non-existent in exchange for tenderness.

Since tenderness isn’t an issue here, as the long cooking time will do the work for you, what you need to do is choose the right shanks. Ask your butcher for hind shanks as they have the most meat on them, unlike those skinny things we too often see on the shelves. The problem is that those beautiful meaty hind shanks have usually gone to the export market leaving the skinny fore shanks like the last drumsticks in the fridge for us in New Zealand. I know that export is very important for our economy and this probably explains why the rest of the world thinks that our lamb is the best, but it would be nice if we could at least have a bit of the good stuff, I don’t often agree with the French, but in this case their attitude of ‘eat the best and flog the rest’ is just fine with me.

This dish is all about the short days of winter when the kitchen is filled with the warm aromas of slow cooking, and the table is set for a cosy family meal. It’s about meat of such melting texture that it can virtually be eaten with a spoon and a sauce so rich  and delicious that it cries out for the second helping of roast potatoes to be squashed into so as not to waste a drop….don’t try and tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about!

Classic Lamb Shanks

The balsamic in this dish adds both acid and sweetness which cuts through the fattiness of lamb shanks and makes a wonderful rich sauce.

Serves 6

6 small lamb shanks

Flour for dusting


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and finely sliced

a handful of chopped rosemary leaves

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

175ml balsamic vinegar

300ml red wine

  1. Dust the lamb shanks with seasoned flour.
  2. In a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid, heat the oil and brown the shanks on all sides then remove.
  3. Lower the heat, add the onions to the pan and cook for about 10–15 minutes until golden.
  4. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook for another couple of minutes.
  5. Raise the heat and add the balsamic and the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes.
  6. Return the shanks to the pan. Cover and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for 2–21/2 hours.
  7. Check the shanks from time to time, basting with the juices or adding more wine if they look too dry. Serve whole, with the juices.

Try the Oyster Bay Merlot with the lamb Shanks. It’s a velvety soft and yet fruity little wine that pairs perfectly with Lamb. This is Oyster Bay’s first foray into the Hawkes Bay and they’ve produced an awesome wine that’s great value.

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