CABBI Travel Blog

Braised Lamb Shanks served over polenta

Braised Lamb Shanks from the Tallman Hotel

The cleanest air in all of California is just a scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive from San Francisco, at the edge of the Mendocino National Forest. That’s where Rufus and Mary Tallman, early Lake County settlers, built the Tallman Hotel in the 1870s. The Western-style hotel, along with its adjacent livery stable and saloon, was once popular among well-heeled travelers who journeyed by stagecoach to soak in Lake County’s natural mineral spring waters. After the hotel languished for 40 years, Lynne and Bernie Butcher restored it to period perfection, re-opening to guests in 2006. Inside, hand-painted lighting, luxurious linens, and custom fabric and wall treatments now convey classic Eastlake style, showcasing a blend of muted colors and bold patterns. Outside, four Lower Garden rooms feature ultra-private patios, wooden Japanese Ofuro soaking tubs, and outdoor showers.

Exterior of the Tallman Hotel
Tallman Hotel
Lobby at the Tallman Hotel
Lobby at the Tallman Hotel
Guest room at the Tallman Hotel
Guest room at the Tallman Hotel

Across the courtyard from the hotel, the Butchers also re-imagined and reconstructed the Blue Wing Saloon, a popular watering hole that was torn down during Prohibition. With an antique back bar salvaged from a 19th-century Pennsylvania pub, a bar and dining tables crafted from a 100-year-old walnut tree, and repurposed old-growth redwood wainscoting, the rebuilt restaurant sports a nostalgic Old West vibe. The hotel and restaurant are both tributes to a bygone era, but the Blue Wing Saloon also celebrates the region’s modern-day agricultural bounty.

Bordered by Napa and Sonoma to the south and Mendocino to the west, Lake County is a lesser-known wine region. After Prohibition brought prolific wine production in the region to a halt, a new generation of winemakers has been drawn by the region’s unique terroir. Volcanic soils and higher elevations produce grapes with thicker skins and more intensely concentrated fruit, while hot summer days and cool nights create distinctive taste and character. Visitors to the area are likely to see grass-fed sheep grazing among the region’s vineyards, a synergistic relationship that allows for more sustainable farming practices and produces another of the county’s iconic products.

Blue Wing Saloon at the Tallman Hotel
Blue Wing Saloon at the Tallman Hotel
Outdoor dining and live music in the courtyard of the Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon
Outdoor dining and live music in the courtyard between the Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon

A recipe that celebrates Lake County produce while honoring the Blue Wing Saloon’s storied past comes to us from former executive chef Mark Linback. Blue Wing Saloon Braised Lamb Shanks highlights two of Lake County’s top agricultural products—robust red wines and locally grown lamb. Often overlooked, the lamb shank is incredibly flavorful. While it may not be the tenderest of cuts, after two hours in a flavorful red wine and tomato braising liquid the shank melts into a rich delicacy. Whether it’s served over creamy polenta or alongside crispy roasted potatoes, it’s the perfect entrée for a chilly winter day that calls out for a glass of red wine and a hearty meal. The recipe also works well for entertaining at Passover or Easter, guaranteeing lots of empty plates and satisfied palates.

Braised lamb shanks served over polenta
Blue Wing Saloon Braised Lamb Shanks

Blue Wing Saloon Braised Lamb Shanks

Courtesy of Tallman Hotel

Makes 8 servings

  • 8 center-cut lamb shanks
  • 1 cup flour (optional—for more browning and a slightly thicker sauce)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (lamb benefits from more bold seasoning than some other meats)
  • 1 bottle red wine, preferably the same as or similar to the wine the lamb will be paired with
Celery, lamb shanks, herbs, carrots, red wine and tomato puree
Ingredients for Blue Wing Saloon Braised Lamb Shanks from the Tallman Hotel

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add just enough oil to coat the bottom.

Toss the shanks in flour (if desired) and sear until golden, then turn.

Searing the lamb shanks in a pan
Dust the lamb shanks with flour (optional) and sear on both sides.

When both sides are browned, place the shanks in a deep roasting pan. Top with the vegetables, herbs, tomato puree, salt, pepper, wine, and enough water to cover at least halfway up the lamb.

Lamb shanks in a roasting pan with vegetables, red wine, tomato puree, and herbs
Place the lamb shanks in a roasting pan and cover with vegetables, herbs, tomato puree, red wine, and enough water to cover the lamb at least halfway.

Cover tightly with foil and bake in a preheated oven for two hours, or until the lamb is fork tender.

Baked lamb shanks in a roasting pan
Cover the lamb with foil and bake until tender

Serve over creamy polenta or your favorite starch.