My Dad, ‘aka’ Pop had surgery a few months ago. To help with his recovery I started cooking all his meals. Which is great because I know he’s getting proper nutrition and I have more opportunities to experiment in the kitchen.
This slow cooked ‘magic meal’ is one of Pop’s all-time favourites. And truth be told, it’s so easy he could probably manage to make it himself.
While slow cookers are incredibly convenient, they do have a reputation for blandness. This is because there’s no opportunity for the lovely browning reactions that normally happen in the oven resulting in less big complex meaty flavours.
My solution is to start by roasting the meat and onion in the oven for 30 minutes. I use the slow cooker insert so there’s no extra cleanup. It adds an extra step but definitely worth it for the bigger flavours.
Pop's Slow Cooker Magic Meal
- 4 small onions approx 70g each
- 1 kg lamb shanks or other stewing meat
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 jar tomato passata / puree 1.5 cups
- 4 stalks rosemary optional
- 500 g frozen spinach or other greens
- 200 g roast almonds
- Get your spinach out of the freezer to defrost.
- Peel and slice onions in half lengthwise. Then slice each half into thin half moons. Place onions and lamb shanks (or other meat) in your slow cooker insert. Drizzle with a little oil and scatter over 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Turn oven to 200C (400F) and put the slow cooker insert in the cold oven. Cook for 30 minutes or until shanks are starting to brown.
- Carefully transfer the hot insert to the slow cooker. Add tomato passata and rosemary (if using). Cover and cook on high for 6 hours or low for 11 hours or until meat is beautifully tender.
- When you're ready to serve, squeeze spinach dry by placing in a sieve and pushing down with the back of a spoon. Discard the spinach juice. Stir spinach into the meat and leave on high to warm through for a few minutes. Taste and season with salt if needed.
- Roughly chop almonds. Stir in most of the chopped almonds. Divide between 4 bowls and top with the remaining almonds.
NET CARBS: 15g / serve
Variations & Substitutions Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks
no slow cooker / short on time – cook in the oven covered will take 3-4 hours at 160C (320F).
vegetarian – use diced eggplant or mushrooms – will cook much quicker. Dried chickpeas or beans can be cooked in the slow cooker.
nightshade-free – use chicken stock instead of the passata. And throw in a few finely chopped anchovies to add extra umami. Or if you want sweeter canned apricot nectar is really delicious!
cheesey – serve with lashings of finely grated parmesan or crumbled feta.
different flavourings – bay leaves or thyme will work instead of the rosemary. Or use some spice. 2-3 teaspoons of curry powder, ground cumin, or smoked paprika. Or use 1 teaspoon each cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. 1/2 teaspoon all spice makes for a lovely exotic flavour.
more substantial (carb lovers) – serve with cooked pasta, steamed rice or mashed potato. Canned chickpeas or beans can be added at the end and aren’t quite as carby as the other options.
Low FODMAP – skip onion and serve with chopped chives on top.
different vegetables / more veg – I often add carrots and celery finely diced so they cook at the same time. Feel free to add any veg you feel inspired by. Fresh greens will work – just add at the end and allow extra time for them to wilt down.
different protein – any meat that works well slow cooked is great. For example osso buco, beef short ribs, lamb shoulder, pork shoulder.
Problem Solving Guide Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks
bland – more salt! Or 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce. If it still tastes flat 1-2 tablespoons sherry or wine vinegar can help. Putting it in the oven (200C / 400F) uncovered for 30 minutes will reduce the sauce and intensify the flavours.
too dry – it’s important to use cuts of meat suitable for slow cooking that have lots of connective tissue and some fat like lamb shanks or beef short ribs. Next time try a different cut or a different butcher. For now serving with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can help.
no slow cooker – just cook uncovered in the oven at 200C (400F) for 30 minutes. Then add 1 cup water when you add the passata and cover with foil and a lid. Reduce the temperature to 150C (300F) and cook for another 3-4 hours or until meat is tender.
too watery – I often think there is too much liquid but when I serve it out I actually appreciate the additional sauce. It’s important to squeeze the excess moisture from the frozen spinach before adding to the slow cooker. If it really is too watery, putting it in the oven (200C / 400F) uncovered for 30 minutes will reduce the sauce and intensify the flavours. Stirring in some extra almond meal, chopped almonds or bread crumbs will help thicken the sauce.
Yes! Just cook as per the recipe but keep the almonds separately. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or can be frozen. To serve, warm in a saucepan or the oven and serve with the chopped almonds. When I make it for my Dad I just add the almonds because he would forget to add them – the almonds lose their crunch but still taste good!
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Have fun in the kitchen!