Lamb Youvetsi Recipe

Lamb Youvetsi Recipe
Staff Writer

Allison Beck


A unique braised lamb dish in which the liquid the lamb was braised in is used to cook — and flavor — tender orzo. This is a classic Greek lamb preparation that Chef Jim Botsacos of New York City's Molyvos Restaurant makes to celebrate Easter. — Allison Beck 


  • Six 1-pound lamb shanks, cut crosswise into twelve 2-inch pieces (cut like osso buco)
  • About 1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons sliced garlic
  • 2 ½ tablespoons dried savory
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 4 stems fresh parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 6 ¼ cups diced onion
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • 1 quart dry red wine, such as Aghiorghitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Sangiovese
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • One 32-ounce can whole tomatoes packed in puree, drained and crushed by hand
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 ½ cups orzo
  • ½ cup coarsely grated kefalotyri cheese, or another aged, hard, salty sheep's milk cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Set the small end pieces of lamb aside.

Combine 1 cup of the olive oil with the lemon juice, sliced garlic, a tablespoon of the savory, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a small mixing bowl.

Place the lamb in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the marinade and press lightly on the bag to release all the air. Seal and refrigerate for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the reserved lamb end pieces, stirring to coat. Place in the preheated oven. Sear, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool just slightly.

Place the cooled lamb pieces in a large saucepan. Add the stock, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, then skim off any impurities. Add parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, the smashed garlic, and ¼ cup of the onion. Place over medium heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the stock is well flavored with the lamb. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, discarding the solids, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the lamb shanks from the plastic bags and, using your hands, push all the excess marinade from the lamb. Place the lamb on a platter lined with paper towels to drain off any excess marinade. Set aside.

Transfer the marinade to a small bowl and, using a slotted spoon, remove all the sliced garlic. Place the garlic on a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, finely chop it. Set the garlic aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large, straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season 6 pieces of lamb shank with salt and pepper to taste and add to the hot pan. Sear, turning frequently, for about 10 minute or until all sides are nicely browned. Transfer the seared lamb to a platter to rest and allow for the juices to collect. Repeat this process to sear the remaining 6 pieces of lamb.

Drain the excess oil from the sauté pan. Return the pan to medium-low heat and add the wine. Using a wooden spoon, stir to loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the wine has reduced by three quarters. Remove from the heat and strain the reduced wine through a fine sieve into a clean container. Set aside.

Place a heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the remaining oil. When warm, add the remaining 6 cups onion along with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat lightly, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes or until the onion is quite soft and translucent.

Raise the heat to medium and stir in the reserved chopped garlic. Cook for 1 minute.  Add the Aleppo pepper along with the tomatoes and remaining savory and stir to blend well. Add the reserved reduced wine and using a wooden spoon, stir well to loosen any bits stuck on the bottom. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately stir in the reserved stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and, using a metal spoon, skim off any foam or fatty bits that rise to the surface. Add the 3 remaining bay leaves along with the cinnamon stick. When well combined, simmer for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors. Remove the pan from the heat.

Add the reserved shanks to the tomato mixture.  Cover and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise, turning the lamb occasionally, for about 2 ½ hours, or until the lamb is very tender and nearly falling off the bone.

While the lamb is braising, blanch the orzo in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain well and transfer to an ice-water bath to stop cooking. Drain well again. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat, to remove the excess starch from the pasta. Set aside.

Remove the lamb from the oven, leaving the oven on. Uncover and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the shanks to a platter. Tent lightly with aluminum foil to keep warm. Measure out and reserve 1 ½ cups of the cooking liquid.

Stir in the blanched orzo into the liquid remaining in the Dutch oven. Return the pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the orzo is almost cooked through. Check from time to time to ensure that the liquid has not evaporated. If the pan seems to be getting too dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid, no more than ¼ cup at a time as you do not want the orzo to be soupy. Do not turn off the oven.

Remove the pan from the oven and place the reserved shanks on top of the orzo. Cover, return the pan to the oven, and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and either serve family style — straight from the braising pan — or stir the mixture and then place an equal portion of the orzo on each of 6 dinner plates, topped with 2 pieces of lamb shank and spoonful of the reserved sauce over all. Either way, sprinkle the top with the grated cheese and chopped parsley before serving.

Lamb Shopping Tip

Look for meat that is bright red. Red meat turns paler as the hemoglobin within releases oxygen – a sign that the meat has been sitting too long at the butcher's counter.

Lamb Cooking Tip

When browning meat, resist the urge to move the meat – you must allow a flavorful crust to form over high heat. Once it has formed, the meat should slide freely with the shake of a pan.

Lamb Wine Pairing

Most red wines, especially cabernet sauvignon, but also including cabernet franc, mourvèdre, Rhône blends, zinfandel, petite sirah, nebbiolo, nero d'avola, primitivo, barbera, and sangiovese.