Flying Saucer Beer Czar and Fort Worth GM Marc Castaldo knows his beer and food and has a suggestion for you Beerknurds on how to make a killer beer-braised lamb shank dish that’ll keep you warm through chilly winter nights.
Slow-braised meats, starch-heavy sides with gravy and roasted winter root veggies equal COMFORT FOOD! As a hobby epicurean, winter is my all-time crush season to show off a little culinary flair. The canvas it provides to layer flavors one over the other, adding depth to your cuisine, is just too great to resist. Not to mention how cook times slow way down since you’re not worried about battling elevated kitchen temps and the rising mercury outside like in summer. As such, winter meal prep and execution turn into one epic beer tasting session!
So, where do you start? I’ve come to recognize two basic “cooking with beer” approaches. First, don’t drink too much while cooking. You’ll screw something up. Second, understand the beer you’re working with. Beer does not reduce as well as wine or liquor. If you’re going to keep it on the heat for any period of time, it’s best to start with a beer that boasts a high sugar content. I always think Belgian first, but there are other options such as Scotch ales, milk stouts and even some barleywines can hold up in a slow and low simmered chili.
Well let’s get cooking. One of my very favorite winter warmer meals to pair with beer is beer-braised lamb shank. It’s so easy and so epicurean at the same time (not to mention easy to pair with beer). For this session, I’ll be sipping some SKA Euphoria while prepping and braising and then, serving Great Divide Hibernation with dinner. Being in Texas, I’ll be using Rahr & Sons Bourbon Barrel Whiskey Warmer as part of the braising liquid. This dish breaks down to the lamb shanks, mirepoix, a little chopped garlic, braising liquid and a bouquet of herbs.
Another great thing about making a meal you throw in the oven and wait on is that your company can come over early and join you for a tasting session of your favorite winter warmers. I’d recommend starting with your lighter English style warmers such as Sam Smith’s Winter Welcome and SKA’s Euphoria, graduating to the more robust Heavy Seas Winter Storm. Save the darker more malt-forward beers for dinner. With the right company and conversation, you should be able to conquer at least two more, starting with Great Divide Hibernation and maybe the rest of that Rahr & Sons Whiskey Barrel Aged Winter Warmer.
Beer-Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 3–4 Beerknurds
Oil for searing (vegetable or canola)
3–4 Lamb shanks
Kosher salt and pepper for rub
1 large onion diced
3 carrots diced
3 ribs celery diced
(I don’t run a French kitchen, so my mirepoix is as close to a small dice of onion, carrot and celery as I can get. No one has every complained about my lack of uniform dice. You shouldn’t stress about it either.)
4–6 cloves garlic chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 22-oz. bottles dark malty beer (bourbon barrel-aged is best — some for cooking, some for drinking)
5–6 stems fresh rosemary
Medium bunch fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pat dry the shanks then rub with salt and pepper.
2. Heat oil over high heat in a heavy braising pot that has enough room for 3–4 shanks. Brown the shanks well on all sides. Set aside to rest on a plate. Reduce heat to medium-low.
Chef’s note: I’m probably three-quarters of the way down on that first can of Euphoria by now, so let’s refill and move on.
3. Toss mirepoix into the braising pot, which should still be hot. Stir and cook until starting to soften, about 3–4 minutes.
4. Add chopped garlic and stir. Let cook 1–2 minutes until fragrant.
5. Add tomato paste and stir.
6. Deglaze the pot with beef stock. Do not deglaze with beer as it can burn up the sugars, creating a bitter flavor that — unlike a pleasantly bitter IPA — is very unappetizing.
7. Let liquid come to a boil and add lamb shanks along with any liquid left on resting plate.
Chef’s note: At some point, I’ve refilled my beer during all of this.
8. Add the beer, just enough to cover the shank. (Take a sip — for quality control.)
Chef’s note: You’ll want to try and keep a 2/3 beef stock to 1/3 beer ratio.
9. Tie herbs together or combine in a cheesecloth pouch. Toss into pot.
10. Cover pot with a lid and place in oven for 2 1/2–3 hours.
11. Check liquid level every hour, adding beer or stock to keep shanks submerged.
12. Remove lid with about 30 minutes left to let braising liquid reduce a little.
13. Once shanks are fall-off-the-bone tender, remove to a serving plate. Strain liquid into saucepot.
14. Heat liquid over medium to medium-high heat.
15. Mix together butter and flour into a paste. Mix into liquid and stir well until liquid thickens and forms a velvety gravy. Add more beer if it becomes too thick.
I suggest serving with either a simple yellow cornmeal polenta or mashed sweet potatoes and always a roasted root/winter veggie, preferably drizzled with a balsamic reduction.