Sunday, March 20, 2016

56. Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa Collage

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This latest recipe was part of a big undertaking!  We threw a combination family birthday/retirement party at our house and I decided to do a taco trio!  I thought it would be a great opportunity to knock off a few recipes in one day, and I was hoping that it would be fun for my family to try some of my taco creations.  I'm lucky to have my parents and two of my siblings (and their families) close by, but they're just far enough away that they don't often get a chance to try my recipes.

Fortunately, I've been on spring break this week, so I had a chance to plan ahead a bit.  I decided to make a lamb taco, a brisket taco, and a turkey taco.  I'm not going to lie - it was pretty crazy.  I went to the store with a few notes jotted down on some post-its and tried to get ingredients for ALL of the tacos . . . and a cake!  (Because you have to have a cake if it's a birthday!)

Since I started this project, I've fallen into a comfortable routine.  I come up with an idea.  I develop a rough draft.  I shop.  Then, I make the recipe.  If any amounts or instructions change, I make adjustments to the recipe as I go.  After I'm done and we try it, I review it and finish up the post.  I wouldn't say that it's easy, but it works.

This time, I was dealing with the same process . . . times three!  The cooking processes of the different recipes overlapped.  The ingredients were all mixed up.  To top it off, I was making a new cake recipe that I found on The Goodie Godmother blog (which was delicious, by the way)!

It was an interesting (and slightly stressful) day, but it all turned out for the best!

In this post, I'll focus on the lamb recipe.  I love lamb shanks!  They're deceptively easy - brown them, throw them in a pot with vegetables and liquid, and in about three hours, you'll have a delicious dinner!

I don't think lamb shank tacos are a thing, really, but why not?  We make tacos out of shredded beef, pork, and chicken, right?  Lamb shanks, when properly cooked, produce meat that is tender and falling off the bone - easy to shred!

Most of the lamb shank recipes that I've made have been braised with red wine.  Or tomatoes.  Or ancho chiles.  All things rich and red!  Nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to go in a different direction.  I wanted bright, tangy flavors.  I decided to braise the lamb shanks in pineapple juice and beer (Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin IPA, to be exact).  I also decided to include a fresh salsa that features fresh tomatillos and pineapple!

I wasn't sure how it would turn out - I've never made lamb shanks with this combination of flavors before.  Fortunately, the tacos were delicious - a great way to start off my taco trio!

It's hard to say exactly how many this serves.  Usually, a whole lamb shank is a generous dinner portion for an adult.  As part of a taco, though?  You wouldn't need as much meat.  If this was the only main dish, I would say that it serves about 6 - maybe more if side dishes are involved.  (We had black beans.)  It's great as part of a taco night though - why would you want one kind of taco if you could have three?

Here's the recipe:

Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

Serves 4 to 6 . . . or more?


For the braised lamb shanks:

4 lamb shanks, generously seasoned on all sides with salt and pepper (mine were about 4.8 lbs. total)

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 or 3 dried bay leaves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 cup pineapple juice (freshly squeezed, if possible)
1 cup Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin IPA or another beer of your choice

Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin IPA
I love ALL of the Sculpin IPAs!  :)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. white vinegar

For the pineapple-tomatillo salsa:

1 cup coarsely chopped pineapple
6 tomatillos, coarsely chopped (mine were about 14 to 15 oz.)
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1 tsp. salt

8 oz. pepper-jack cheese, grated

A few cups thinly sliced green cabbage

16-40 corn tortillas, depending on their size and whether you plan to double them up


1.  Start the lamb:  Preheat the oven to 290 degrees.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy, oven-safe pot, such as a Dutch oven.  Add the lamb shanks (in batches, if necessary) and brown on all sides. about 10 minutes per batch.  Transfer the lamb to a plate and set aside.  Add the onion, carrots, chiles, and garlic to the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook the vegetables until they are soft and somewhat browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the bay leaves, cumin, and coriander.  Continue to cook and stir for another couple of minutes.

Vegetables for Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

Add the pineapple juice, beer, chicken stock, and salt and bring to a simmer.  Add the lamb, cover, and place in the oven.  Cook for approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours (turning the lamb shanks every 30 minutes), or until the lamb is extremely tender and coming off of the bone.  If, when you check it, the liquid is boiling furiously, you can turn the heat down a bit.  The idea is to cook it gently!  :)

Braised Lamb Shanks for Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa
Here's how mine looked after about an hour.
2.  While the lamb is cooking, make the salsa:  Place all of the salsa ingredients in a food processor.

Ingredients for Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

Pulse until the salsa has a chunky, slightly smooth texture.  Mine looked like this:

Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa for Lamb Shank Tacos

Taste and adjust seasonings.  Cover and set aside.  You can refrigerate it if you like, but I would take it out about 30 minutes to an hour before you want to eat the tacos so it's not ice cold!

3.  Take the lamb out of the oven.  Remove the lamb shanks (leaving the liquid in the pan) and transfer to a plate to cool a bit. 

Braised Lamb Shanks for Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa
Yes, you can totally eat them like this and call it good!  :)
4.  Finish the sauce:  Transfer the liquid to a medium saucepan.  If you wish, skim off some of the fat.  I used a fat separator like this one:

After skimming, blend with a hand blender until relatively smooth.  Boil gently over medium-low heat until it is reduced to your desired consistency.  I reduced mine by about half.   Add the vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Sauce for Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

5. Use a knife and fork (or your fingers, like me) to pull all of the meat off of the lamb shanks and break/pull it into small pieces.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.  Return to the sauce in the saucepan and heat through over low heat.

Pulled Lamb Shanks for Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

6. While the lamb is heating, prepare the tortillas to your liking:  There are a few different ways you can do this.  When I am making tacos with soft corn tortillas, I heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  I place a large sheet of aluminum foil near the pan.  I heat each tortilla in the skillet for about a minute or so on each side, or until it softens and begins to brown.  After each one is done, I place it on the foil and immediately start the next one.  I stack them on top of one another as I work.  When I'm done with the whole batch, I wrap them completely in the foil and place them in a 250 degree oven until I'm ready to assemble the tacos.  They always stay hot and soft!  If there are leftovers, I heat fresh tortillas for the next meal.

7.  Assemble the tacos:  For each taco, place a tortilla on a plate.  (You can double them up if your tortillas are thin.)  Spoon some of the lamb down the center of the tortillas.  Top with some of the grated cheese.  Sprinkle on a small amount of cabbage.  Finish with the pineapple-tomatillo salsa.  Enjoy!

Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa

Well, there you have it.  That's the first recipe from my taco trio.  Below, you can find a picture of the whole thing:

Taco Trio - Pulled Lamb Shank Tacos, Brisket Tacos, and Chipotle Turkey Tacos with Cranberry Aioli
Clockwise, from the top:  Chipotle Turkey Taco with Cranberry Aioli, Smoked Brisket Taco with Ancho Barbecue Sauce and Pico de Gallo, and Pulled Lamb Shank Taco with Pineapple-Tomatillo Salsa
The lamb tacos were great!  The pineapple flavor was not overpowering - however, it did a subtle tangy sweetness that we enjoyed very much!

Lamb is rich.  The freshness of the pineapple-tomatillo salsa was the perfect contrast to the flavorful meat - it kept the taco balanced and not too heavy.

These tacos took quite a while from start to finish.  The steps were rather easy, though.  There is a lot of downtime involved.  If you're making a taco trio or some other crazy party spread, you're in business.  You'll have plenty of time to do other things!

So . . . about that cake.  Wow.  It was amazing.  It's a Snickers cake!  Yes.  As in the candy bar.  There is no actual candy bar involved, though.  It's all from SCRATCH!

Snickers Cake from The Goodie Godmother - Peanuts, Caramel, Chocolate, Nougat

You can find the recipe (created by Mary of The Goodie Godmother) here.  You will notice that mine looks much more . . . rustic than hers.  Ha ha.

Well.  In my defense, I was making three taco recipes at the same time.  I didn't quite brown the caramel sauce as much as I should have.  I assembled it pretty quickly.  I could have let the nougat and the ganache set just a bit more.  There are gooey, sugary substances oozing out all over the place.

Sigh.  A pastry chef I am not.  It was delicious, though!  Steve and I are thoroughly enjoying the leftovers.  (Yes - with a cake this rich and decadent, there were leftovers!)

It was a fun night - eight adults, one six-year-old, one three-year-old, and two two-year olds!  Silliness!  This next photo pretty much sums it up!  I had to include it, because it's just too cute.  I love my nephews!  :)

Silly Nephews Playing Drums

You can find the recipe for the brisket taco recipe here.  You can find the turkey taco recipe here.  All three recipes were pretty great - I was happy with them!

Next time, though, I might think twice before attempting three in one day!

Feel free to comment on this recipe!  Did you try them?  What did you think?  What's your personal limit for the number of new recipes that you'll try during one twenty-four hour period?  Ha ha.

Thanks for reading!


  1. As a fellow overzealous party cook, I applaud you for getting all this done! I saved this page because I'm curious about beer braising lamb and love the idea of contrasting the lamb flavor with a really bright salsa. I also think your cake looks beautiful. Baking isn't always about perfection, it's about making something delicious to enjoy with those that make your heart happy. :) I'm honored you chose my recipe to bake for your party! <3

  2. Thanks, Mary! We ended up having some of the leftover lamb the next day with rice and black beans (and extra salsa). It was even better the next day! Thanks for visiting my blog and thanks again for the cake recipe! :)


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