Tomatillo-braised Lamb Shanks

August 4, 2011 · 10 comments


Sometimes I freak out about money.

Actually, it’s more like a lot of the time. Until a couple months ago, I was by default the person in our marriage who kept track of day-to-day financial goings-on in our household. Meaning: I made sure the bills got paid, I balanced the checkbook, and I tweaked the budget to fit my liking best meet the current needs of our family.

The problem was, my accounting skills never made it out of the year 1994. I still wrote every single transaction down in our checkbook ledger, and had devised a mind-boggling series of monthly bank transfers between checking and savings accounts that Tim likened to the US Tax Code — my system was so broken and stuck in a mire of paperwork that every bandaid just perpetuated the misery and confusion that enveloped me once or twice a month when I sat down to tackle it.

So we’re in transition. My husband, to save our marriage, has taken over the budget and bank account ledger, and doing it all online, which he swears is a safe and acceptable practice (I’ll believe it when we don’t overdraft our account and our identity is not stolen anytime in the next 25 years — this coming from a woman who uses a smartphone, so some guy at Verizon could know anything about me at any time, right?) But while we’re in transition, I feel like all these dollars, they just fly out of my wallet, and how much is left in my grocery budget, and wasn’t this whole thing supposed to make my life less stressful? Make me less likely to end up in the Target parking lot with a calculator and wad of old receipts clutched to my chest, sucking my thumb in the fetal position?

So this week I decided to bypass the whole spending-money thing, and try and cook only what we had at home.

What I had: lamb shanks, in the deep freezer, from the lamb I split with Emily. I also had tomatillos, from last weekend’s farmer’s market (meaning, I needed to use them fast, or they would rot on my counter). Having no idea whether or not lamb is a meat that shows itself often in Mexican cuisine, I dove in, with my beloved slow-cooker as accomplice.

The result? We found it excellent — a keeper, even — and I put off my shopping meltdown for one more day.

This is a two-step recipe, but in a pinch you could bypass the homemade salsa and just use a jar of your favorite salsa verde (but only if you promise to try your hand at the roasted tomatillo recipe at some point in the future, it’s very different from its jarred counterpart). If you haven’t made the leap to lamb, this is a great cut to try — inexpensive because it’s one of the toughest cuts, it becomes fall-off-the-bone tender when slow-cooked.

We ate this on soft-shell tacos with extra salsa, but it would be delicious over Spanish rice with the sauce spooned over top.


Recipe: Slow-Cooker Tomatillo-Braised Lamb Shanks

: serves 3-4


  • (2) 1-pound lamb shanks, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups roasted tomatillo salsa (recipe follows)


  1. Sprinkle the lamb shanks all over with cumin, salt and pepper, and rub to coat. Dredge in flour and shake off excess.
  2. In a heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the lamb. Cook, turning, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to slow-cooker, and turn on high.
  3. Add water to the skillet, scraping with a wooden spoon, to loosen any browned bits. Let simmer down for a minute, then pour liquid over shanks in slow-cooker.
  4. Pour tomatillo salsa on top of lamb. Cover slow-cooker.
  5. Cook on high for an hour, then reduce to low and cook another 6 hours, or until meat falls off the bone.


Recipe: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

: makes 2 cups / adapted slightly from The Joy of Cooking, p. 62-63


  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked & rinsed
  • 2-3 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded & chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp sugar


  1. Preheat your oven broiler. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place the tomatillos in a single layer on top. Broil until darkened and softened on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn tomatillos over and broil another 5-6 minutes. Let cool completely.
  2. Place tomatillos and accumulated juices in a food processor along with the jalapenos and garlic. Pulse until coarsely pureed with a few chunks remaining. Remove to a medium bowl.
  3. Stir in the water, onion, herbs, salt, and sugar. If necessary, thin with a little more water.
  4. Let salsa stand for about 20 minutes before serving.


This recipe was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via GNOWFGLINS.

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designhermomma August 4, 2011 at 10:25 am

I love the word shank. Just had to tell you. Also, I’ll give this a whirl, still got the shanks (oh, I even like to type the word) in my freezer and we need to use up the rest of Lamby to get room for his cousin!

katy August 4, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I, too, love the shank.
Lemme know when you go for Lamby’s cousin.

Rebecca Martin August 4, 2011 at 10:28 am

I am definitely going to make this.

Lisa @Granola Catholic August 4, 2011 at 10:49 am

We used to raise sheep and a couple of times a year, Hispanics and other ethnic groups would stop buy and buy a lamb to slaughter and roast whole for special occasions such as baptisms and Easter. I would definitely say that lamb goes with Mexican cooking.

katy August 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

Aha!! Great to know!

mjskit August 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

I love this recipe! Lamb, tomatilla sauce – it’s all good! Definitely going to have to try it. Thanks for sharing!

katy August 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

They really worked so well together. My kids devoured it!

Dad August 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I’ll never foger Gonnie’s “grocery purse”. As a teen mom would send me for odds and ends but I always had to pay for them out of the “grocery purse”. She kept it in the kitchen drawer and they put money in it every Friday. (Weekly pay was the norm back then). As a kid I wondered why they were so ticky about paying for even a loaf of bread out of it but as an adult, I can see how it would work. It certailny did for them. By the way, I don’t use one either!

katy August 4, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I use a theoretical grocery purse. The problem is when I forget at the beginning of the month to get the cash out, and end up using my card. Then I never calculate how much is left for me to take out, and then it’s the 15th, and I’m all confused. It’s a bad cycle. Kinda wished we were all still paid once a week.

sj August 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

yum a lish. That is a word.

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