Monday, January 6, 2014

Saba Braised Lamb Shanks – A New Find and an Old Rule

This absolutely delicious saba braised lamb shanks recipe will hopefully serve two very important purposes. First, to expose anyone currently unexposed to the wonderful world of saba (seriously, Google it). This thick, sweet, syrupy substance is basically cooked-down wine must (grape juice plus seeds, skins, and stems). It’s very similar to aged balsamic vinegar, and although I’ve only recently discovered it, I consider it a “must” have.

The second part of the mission is to reinforce an old rule of thumb for braising meats, which goes something like, “Don’t stop cooking until it’s tender and awesome!!” Sounds simple, right? Yet, I get emails all the time saying my short rib, pot roast, or lamb shank recipes didn’t work because “the meat wasn’t tender.” Sorry, but that’s all you, Chef Took-it-out-because-the-timer-rang.

The only reason tough cuts of meat, like these lamb shanks, don’t get tender enough, is because people go by time instead of common-sense testing. In the video I say to roast, covered, at 200 F. for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, before starting the final glazing step, but that’s just a guess. I don’t want you to stop when the timer rings, but only when the point of a knife goes into the meat easily.

Remember, a lamb shank cooked 30 minutes too long is still a succulent and delicious thing. The same cut cooked 30 minutes shy? A chewy disappointment. Not to mention all that dental floss you’re going to waste. So, now that there’s no way your lamb isn’t going to come out all moist and tender, the only thing left to do is find yourself some saba, and give this great winter dish a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 portions:
(I used a 9x12-inch dish)
4 lamb shanks
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper   
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 large onion, sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled, slightly crushed
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup saba or aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary to finish sauce
- Roast 30 min at 450 F. uncovered
- Add liquid and roast covered at 200 F. about 3 hours, or until knife tender
- Uncover, roast at 350 about 20-30 minutes, or until very tender and glazed. Turn in sauce several times during this final step.
- Strain and reduce sauce
*Note: 3 hour braising time will vary depending on size of shanks.


Grams Pam said...

No lamb in the house, but was given some Saba for Christmas! (Right, I had no idea what it was, thought it was some kind of Port or something ... lol) We're having terrible winter storms here so not going to the store! I used some grass-fed beef tonight, made a couple of adjustments since it's beef, not lamb, and got it all prepped. All I have to do in the morning is pull it from the fridge and put it in the slow-cooker while I'm at work. Will finish it off in the oven and do the reduction while unwinding from what is sure to be another 25mph on the freeway, white-knuckle drive home. Thanks for a timely recipe for my Christmas gift.

Nam Lai said...

Just like wanting chick fil a on a Sunday, I'm now drooling over a delicious recipe I can't make till the weekend. Definitely will make it but I was wondering would the braising sedate most of the gamy smell from the lamb shanks? I tried removing the fat before but that just takes away the richness.

dzidziu┼Ť said...

For those who can not get Saba is it possible to use some substitute? Balsamic vineger ie?

By the way great blog Chef!!!

whtnz said...

If you absolutely cannot find Saba (or cannot have it shipped to you)... could you recommend a more common substitute? Thank you!

Chef John said...

Yes, see ingredients. You can use aged balsamic vinegar

Jason Smith said...

CJ, Quick question: what's wrong with moist, tender meat falling off the bone?

I would appreciate your astute, keen, esoteric and knowledgeable (add your fav.adj. here) response!

Chef John said...

Nothing wrong with moist, FORK tender meat falling off the's drier, tasteless meat falling off the bone that's the problem. Some people cook it so long that the meat falls off the bone with no effort, which to me is too long, as the meat flavor dissipates into the broth and the texture gets chalky.

Wowchan said...

My other favorite complaint about your recipes is that it was too spicy or too bland. As if you went to their house and seasoned it for them!

blogagog said...

I always suspected that Chef John secretly worked for the NSA. Now I'm sure of it. How else could he have known that we don't have any lamb stock in our house?

Chez Us said...

Damn! You had me at lamb shanks then you added Saba ... now I need to find some of that! Happy New Year!

Chef John said...

Thanks! Happy New Year Denise and Lenny!! :)

Chef John said...

These were the front legs which are smaller and the ones I like best.

Fanny Law said...

Chef, would you approve if I substitute Saba with pomegranate molasses and sugar?

Chef John said...

Sounds good to me! :)

Doron Degen said...

Hi Chef John,
love your stuff, always fun to watch. In Israel (where I'm from), Saba is made locally, sold in the markets...joined by Silan, an equivalent made from dates. highly recommend.
Keep up your great lessons Chef!


magda said...

Hello chef John. What a great recipe, lamb shanks are delicious. In Greece, petimezi (what we call the saba dressing you have used here) is a sweetener used in savory and sweet dishes. In ancient Greece it was used along with honey to sweeten food.
Love your videos and thanks for the continuous inspiration!

Jason C said...

is "potato puree" just a stuffy way to say, mashed potatoes?

Chef John said...

Yes. Yes it is.

Ed Adams said...

Since I have a difficult finding lamb here, at least the lamb cuts I'd like to have, I went with what was available. I am making this recipe with lamb loins and balsamic instead of Saba. Not that I couldn't get Saba here, I'm sure it's in the local market, I just didn't' have it in my kitchen already and why make another trip to the store. Just wanted to say thanks for keeping me inspired to cook and create. Hope your holidays were great and I think I speak for everyone when I say we all look forward to your 2014 videos.

Michael Kukula said...

Hi Chef,
Where in SF can one find Saba?
I've been calling around and can't seem to find it, or anyone who knows what it is.

Michael Kukula said...

Also, if I can't get my hands on saba, can I use regular Trader Joes Balsamic vinegar instead of the aged stuff?

Chef John said...

You can find at BiRite Market! You can use anything you want, but the aged is much closer.

Jerry Drzewiecki said...

My two bottles of Saba are on the truck and should arrive soon. After the initial 30-minute oven roast, could I transfer the whole business to a pressure cooker to shorten the three hour roasting time and finish the glazing in the roasting pan as you describe?

Chef John said...

Sorry, never tried in a PC! I'm old school when it comes to shanks. Low and slow.

Shawn Donovan said...

I'm fortunate to live in northern New England and recently purchased an organic from a young farmer and his family I know who live in Vermont. I'll look forward to trying this recipe and I know my local Coop can or does have Saba. My issue with braising (which is my prefer manner of cooking) is that sometimes the meat turns out dry but tender. Have I cooked it at too high a temperature? I think so. I'm trying to perfect my technique of braising. Love your videos, Chef John. Keep up the great work. Shawn Donovan

Jerry Drzewiecki said...

Chef John,
My two bottles of Saba arrived today so I'm ready to try this dish. In the meantime, I have been trying to do some research about Saba but, Merriam-Webster online and Wikipedia only define the word as a small Caribbean island. I am very curious to learn what other dishes might benefit by using it. Thanks for any information.

Chef John said...

You can try it in anything that balsamic vinegar would work in!

Jerry Drzewiecki said...

Chef John,
Thinking about the use of parchment placed between the shanks and the foil during the first, long braising, prevents the foil from contacting and chemically reacting with the acidic braising liquid. I don't think it is dangerous but might impart some metallic flavors to the finished dish.

Eric A. Stach said...

The cookbook Sweet Myrtle and a Wild Honey has a number of recipes that use Saba. It is an excellent cookbook.

Michael Kukula said...

Making my own saba :)

Phil Sackett said...

I made this tonight, sans Saba, which I could not find at my local grocery store. I used some good balsamic and some wine instead. I also added a few more spices to the rub. Man, it was great! I made it for my parents, who are old-time food aficionados. They said it was one of the best lamb shanks they had ever eaten. Thanks for the spiffy recipe CJ. I probably use more of your recipes than anybody's at this point. Great stuff!!

Steve Miller said...

I have been wanting to make this since it first posted. So today is the day....Just finished the first roast and added the braising liquid. The kitchen smells fantastic.

Since I'm making 6 and my shanks are the larger version I doubled the rub quantities. Might have put too much cinnamon and paprika, but I'm hoping it comes out good.

Found the Saba at Napa Style in Los Gatos, CA. Wow it was $50 for 200ml (about 7oz). Stuff is expensive. My lamb was only $30.

I will come back later with the after eats comments. I'm sure it will be good.

Rick said...

I have is recipe a try today. You were right. I was fresh out of lamb stock so I used chicken.

John, I hate to say this but the it just didn't work. You know how you felt about your rosemary pork and grape dish. This one was the same for me. It's not that I used too much rosemary, cinnamon or smokey paprika. The flavors just didn't dance well together. The paprika stepped on the cinnamon's toes and the lambiness from the shanks didn't fit.

Fortunately I have a few nice rib eyes for the guests who are due to arrive. I just can't bring myself to plate the lamb.

I'll keep coming back though because I sure enjoy your work.