Lamb shank is a cut of meat from the legs of the lamb. There are two fore shanks, which contain the portion of the front leg bone above the knee and part of the shoulder, and two hind shanks, which contain the portions of bone above the hocks. Lamb shanks are covered by a thin layer of fat and connective tissue called fell. This cut of meat is very tough, but when cooked properly, it has a rich, strong flavor.
As a lamb shank is a muscular cut of meat, it must be cooked slowly to become tender and fully developed in flavor. To achieve this, cooks choose to braise, slow-roast, stew, or curry lamb shanks, usually for two hours. This cut is complemented by seasonings such as garlic, thyme, rosemary, or others. Chefs usually cook lamb shanks in a liquid as this tenderizes the meat. Beer, wine, and meat stocks are commonly used.
Lamb shanks can be cooked whole as they are or can be prepared by French trimming. To French trim a lamb shank, cooks pull back the fell, separated from the meat, and remove it. Then, they hold the lamb shank with the meatier portion downward and the side with the most fat facing away.
The cook slices downward with a knife, separating the meat and fat from the bone. This is continued until approximately two to three inches (five to seven centimeters) of bone is exposed. The cook pushes the meat that has been cut downward and over the meatier portion, resulting in a clean, smooth area of bone. If the meat is to be removed entirely from the bone, then this process can be continued until all the meat has been separated.
After cooking, the meat should be tender enough to fall easily away from the bone. Generally, one shank is served per person. Lamb shank is usually served along with carbohydrate-based side dishes such as potatoes, rice, or bread. A sauce is also usually included, often one containing the liquid that the meat cooked in. In North America, mint is a very popular accompaniment to lamb dishes, including shanks.
People eat lamb shanks in many countries around the world. Once quite an inexpensive cut of meat, shanks are now often considered a more upmarket cut and priced accordingly. In North America, lamb shanks can sometimes be found on the shelf at grocery stores; however, they can also be requested from a butcher.