Monday 16 September 2013

Quick slow lamb


In anticipation of the chives going underground for winter, I’m throwing handfuls of them into almost everything.

On our way home from Columbia Road Flower Market yesterday we stopped off at the Turkish Food Centre at the end of Ridley Road market. We bought halloumi, feta, a box of figs, oranges and lamb and loaded them into the back of the car with the bunches of Chinese lanterns and hydrangeas.
I went into the garden to pick out seasonings for the lamb. At this time of year, I use even more soft herbs than usual – fistfuls rather than handfuls – anticipating their vanishing underground until next spring. I cut some lovage, thyme, bay leaves, chives and a couple of mild chillies.

In the cool, grey light of the kitchen, I set about cooking the lamb, mostly from instinct and driven by the news that a storm was coming. The height of my ambition for Sunday afternoon was to sit on the sofa, fire lit, telly on, dog at my feet, eating something cosy from a tray. In the end, we ate it at the kitchen counter. My husband is a civilising influence.

End-of–the-garden lamb shank casserole

This past year, largely because of my friend Catherine Phipps’ The Pressure Cooker Cookbook, I have learned to love the pressure cooker. For an impatient person like me, its greatest draw is that it cuts the cooking time of recipes like these lamb shanks from a few hours to 30 minutes. I’ve given timings for making this in a normal casserole too, but I urge you to give pressure cooking a go.


2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
3 carrots, 1 diced and the other two cut into thick chunks
1 stalk of lovage, diced (reserve the leaves for later), or 1 small stick of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 mild chillies, membrane and seeds removed, diced, or a good pinch of chilli flakes to taste
1 tbsp flour
4 lamb shanks, 4 pieces of lamb neck cut from the middle
About 250ml red wine
1 tbsp concentrated tomato purée
600ml chicken, beef or vegetable stock
1x400ml tin chopped plum tomatoes
100g pearl barley, rinsed, or you could add a drained, rinsed tin of chickpeas if you like
Bunch of chives, finely chopped
Bunch of parsley, tough stalks removed and finely chopped
Some dill’s nice too, if you have it
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper


Seasoned lamb shanks and neck.

Warm a tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole or a pressure cooker over a medium-low heat. Add the onions, bay leaf, thyme and a pinch of salt. Sauté gently until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring from time to time, about 15 minutes. Add the diced carrot, lovage or celery, garlic and chillies. Stir for another couple of minutes. Tip everything into a bowl and reserve.

Season the lamb with salt and pepper and dust lightly with the flour. Warm the rest of the oil over a medium-high heat and brown the lamb on all sides. Do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan, removing the browned pieces to a plate as you go. When all of the lamb is browned, drain all but a tablespoon or two of the fat from the pan then deglaze it with the red wine, scraping up any bits which have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half then stir in the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes and stock. Add the reserved vegetables and barley or chickpeas and simmer everything together for 5 minutes. Add the lamb with any juices from the plate, season with salt and pepper and stir.

If you are using a pressure cooker, put the lid on the pan, seal and bring up to full pressure. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 30 minutes. Vent immediately. Add the carrots, seal and bring up to full pressure; cook for 2 minutes and vent immediately.

If you’re cooking the lamb in the oven, cover the casserole tightly with foil, put the lid on and cook in a 160°C/325°F/Gas 3 oven for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and add the carrots. Return to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes, until everything is very tender.
Stir in the chopped herbs (add some chopped lovage leaves or celery leaves if you have them), adjust seasoning if necessary and serve with plain boiled rice or potatoes, sprinkled with a few more herbs.



  1. Ooh interesting. Not only am I really impatient but I'm not very good at planning either so I often have to eschew slow cooking, a method which I really favour when it comes to lamb and, er, just about everything else. Why did pressure cookers fall out of favour then? Was it just the proliferation of the microwave oven? Or was it their largely undeserved reputation as potential metal bombs full of hot stuff? My parents had one. I think my dad still has it (he made a mean stew 'n' dumplings in it) but it's made of aluminium which my mum is quite convinced will make my hair turn green and shrivel my pancreas up or something... I'm off to google 'pressure cookers - the next generation'.

  2. Rich, warming, dishes like this are another reason why I love Autumn. My grandmother in Tennessee used a pressure cooker almost everyday. It made almost any cut of meat tender as butter. It's good to see them coming back into use. As always, you've given us a gorgeous recipe. Thank you.

  3. Hello CC, The thing I love about my pressure cooker is that it lets me make things like this on an impulse, because I fancy it, because I found a bargain in the butchers' or market. Of course the prep time is the same but the cooking time is slashed. And I think the flavour is often better. With slow cooking, sometimes a lot of the flavour of the meat ends up in the sauce - with the pressure cooker, you get the great texture and great flavour. I think we did fall out of love with them, but I think it's really time to fall back in love - they're easy and safe to use, and cut down massively on the fuel you need to use to cook something.
    Hello Debs, You're so welcome dear. I hope you give it a whirl - I love adding barley to things at this time of year. Adds so much richness.


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