The shank is a cut from the bottom, below the knee, of either the foreleg or the hind leg of the animal, in this case lamb. The hind leg shanks are larger and meatier compared to the leaner, lighter forelegs. There’s little taste or texture difference between the two except for a slightly more delicate nuance with the forelegs. Most meat counters carry the meatier hind leg shanks. Ask the butcher to “crack” them into halves or thirds for easy eating. Lamb foreleg shanks don’t need to be cracked; they’re quite manageable whole. That’s right in line with the nose-to-tail aesthetic wherein “tackling” large parts of the animal is part of the fun of enjoying a meal.
2 lamb shanks, preferably foreshanks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 golden dried figs, such as Calimyrnas or Kalamatas, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch wide slices
Strip of orange peel approximately 1/2-inch wide by 2 inches long
1/8 teaspoon rosemary
2 cups hearty red wine, such as Zinfandel
4 baby turnips, such as “Tokyos,” or 2 medium-small turnips
1 tablespoon finely shredded fresh mint leaves, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
2. Lightly sprinkle the lamb shanks with salt and pepper all around. Place them in a large, non-aluminum oven pan or clay pot that will hold them nestled together. Add the garlic, tomato paste, fig slices, orange peel, rosemary, and wine and gently turn the ingredients to mix. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the turnips: Trim off the tops and root ends. If using baby turnips, cut them in half without peeling them. If using medium-small turnips, peel and quarter them. Set aside momentarily.
4. After the 1 1/2 hours, very carefully, to avoid escaping steam, lift the lid off the oven pot and gently mix up the ingredients. Add the turnips, cover again, return the pot to the oven, and continue cooking for 30 minutes more, until the turnips are fork tender but still holding their shape.
5. Remove the dish from the oven and set it aside to cool for 20 minutes or so for the flavors to deepen. At this point, the dish can rest at room temperature for up to several hours or be refrigerated overnight.
6. When ready to serve, if necessary reheat the dish in a 300ºF oven. Sprinkle the mint over the top just before serving.