Star Anise–Braised Lamb Shanks with Butter Beans

Star Anise–Braised Lamb Shanks with Butter BeansYou’ll want to eat this lamb stew with a large spoon in addition to a knife and fork. The spoon will help collect anise-laced juices from the meat and smoky beans. Butter beans and lima beans are similar in texture and taste, but butter beans are lighter in color and larger than the light green beans commonly called limas. Sometimes you’ll find so-called butter beans labeled as lima beans anyway. If you can’t find true butter beans for this recipe, it’s fine to substitute the smaller green bean.

While not complicated, this recipe does require a little forethought. The dried beans are most easily cooked when soaked in water the night prior to use. If you forget to do so, use the shortcut method on page XX. The lamb shanks also need to be marinated for at least 6 hours in advance. As the lamb shanks braise in the oven, cook the beans on the stovetop.

These lamb shanks are front-loaded with flavor and eminently suited to a full-bodied red wine accompaniment. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petite Sirah would all make an excellent match.

For the lamb shanks:
4 lamb shanks (3/4–1 lb/340–455 g each)
2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, white parts only, cut into rounds 1 in/2.5 cm thick and rinsed and drained thoroughly
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds 1 in/2.5 cm thick
1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally to reveal the interior of each clove
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 star anise pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups/480 ml Chicken Stock (page 216) or canned low-sodium chicken broth

For the beans:Butter Beans
2 cups/400 g dried butter beans, soaked overnight in cold water to cover
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 bacon/streaky bacon slices, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 fresh thyme sprigs, each about 4 in/10 cm long
6 1/2 cups/1.4 l Chicken Stock (page 216) or canned low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup/55 g minced shallots
4 oz/115 g baby shiitake mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

To make the lamb shanks: In a large, nonreactive bowl or plastic container, combine the lamb shanks, onions, leeks, carrots, garlic, and red wine. Cover and let marinate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/gas 5.

Remove the lamb shanks from the marinade and lightly salt and pepper on all sides. Remove the vegetables from the marinade and reserve both liquid and vegetables separately. Wrap the star anise and coriander seeds in cheesecloth/muslin and tie closed to make a bouquet garni. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven or a large, ovenproof saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the shanks and sear on all sides until they turn brown and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and set aside.

In the same pot used for searing the shanks, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the vegetables from the marinade. Sauté until the leeks and onions wilt, stirring frequently to prevent burning, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and reserved wine marinade, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the bouquet garni, and return the lamb shanks to the pot. Cover and transfer to the oven. Braise for 2 hours. Uncover and continue to braise until the meat is very tender and falls easily off the bone, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the beans: Drain the beans. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and sauté until crisp, 3–4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and thyme, stir to mix well, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add 6 cups/1.4 l of the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the beans and the salt, reduce the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour. (If the beans are still not tender after all the liquid is absorbed, add more stock, 1/2 cup/120 ml at a time, until they are completely tender.) Discard the thyme sprigs.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup/120 ml stock and the cooked beans and mix thoroughly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, 5–10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

To serve, reheat the lamb braise and the bean mixture gently over medium heat, if necessary. Place a generous portion of beans on each plate. Place a lamb shank next to the beans. Ladle the lamb braising liquid and vegetables over and around the meat. Garnish with the parsley and serve at once. Pour any extra braising liquid into a small pitcher or gravy boat and pass at the table.

Serves 4