Braising lamb shanks results in a main dish that features both tender, flavorful meat and plenty of pot juices ready to be soaked up by a handy starch. To complete the meal, all you need is a vegetable side such as roasted asparagus, sauteed spinach or roasted root vegetables.
Potatoes or Rice
Potatoes are versatile. On the plate, they work as either a vegetable or a starch. Serve them mashed for the most classic presentation, with the pot juices pooling atop the potatoes. But you also can crush the potatoes or roast them in the oven. Plain white or brown rice is a serviceable accompaniment to lamb shanks, but even better is a rice pilaf or other seasoned rice dish. You can get as fancy as you want, or you can keep it simple with just chicken stock, onion and a short stint in the oven.
Polenta, a traditional Italian side dish, consists of coarse cornmeal cooked until either creamy or thick enough to slice. Either style is suitable to accompany lamb shanks. The cornmeal provides a slightly nutty flavor that plays well off the lamb.
Couscous or Noodles
Couscous is a Moroccan dish consisting of tiny grains of semolina pasta. It often is paired with lamb tagine, which is a boneless lamb braise -- so lamb on the bone is hardly a stretch here. Israeli couscous is another possibility; it has larger, spherical grains that do not sop up sauce as well as Moroccan couscous, but it does have a pleasant chewy texture worth trying. Buttered egg noodles are another possibility for a starchy side dish to accompany lamb shanks. The pot juices coat the noodles like a light sauce, and the slightly chewy texture of the noodles contrasts with the tender lamb meat.
Lamb shanks paired with white beans makes for a solidly traditional French main dish. The starchy white beans can be flavored with everything from tomato, greens and various herbs to nothing but salt. White beans also can be mashed or pureed.