Saturday, January 09, 2010

Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks

It reaches right in and warms the soul. On a sub zero day, it's the kind of dish that locks the doors, lights the fire, and sets out a pair of pre-warmed slippers next to the paper and a glass of what cures you. The spiciness, the deep umami of long braised lamb, the thick flavourful sauce. It really is something a little bit special. And it is braising, which means, with planning, no more than 20 minutes work for a lamb shank masterpiece.

Jesus. I almost came over all Delia there "your whole family will thank you for it...."

I originally whipped up an alpha version for the teachers from work, as a recession busting celebration of all things Moore Street, only to realise FX Buckleys charged me €6.50 a shank - same price as Fallon and Byrne's offerings. My local craft butcher, however, advertises the same cuts for €2.50 a piece. The recipe is also highly adaptable - it's easy to substitute other ingredients that are in your store cupboard, or stretch the dish to accommodate extra mouths. With adaptability, there's food for 8 people to be had for under €15.

The version posted here is tested and tweaked, especially with regard to thickening the sauce.


Let's cut to the meat.

These quantities will easily serve 6. If you need to serve more, you may need to take the meat off the bone, and serve it stew style.

4 lamb shanks (your butcher may offer to snap the bottom part of the shank, useful if your pot is not long enough)
1 (or two, if you need to stretch the pot) tins of tomatoes.
600ml of stock (chicken or vegetable are good, water is acceptable here too)
150g of dried apricots, sliced lengthways
150g of dried figs (or dates) sliced lengthways
(both apricots and figs can easily be replaced using currants and sultanas, thought the juicy burst of apricot deliciousness, and the curiously toffee-like near fudginess of the figs, will be missing)
2 large red (or ordinary) onions, cut roughly into wedges

1 tbsp of harissa (available in tubes for €1.50 from the Asia market off Georges street. Behind the arcade. The last aisle, furthest from the exit, near the bottom of the aisle). The harissa, unless you make your own, is, I think, irreplaceable. The dish is not what it could be without it.
1 piece of cinnamon bark
3 bay leaves
Ground in a pestle and mortar to a paste.....
2 tsp of cumin
1 tbsp of coriander
4 peeled cloves of garlic
salt, to taste
a large cube of peeled ginger. I go for around an inch of root here.

Preheat the oven to 140 C/Gas Mark 3.
Brown the shanks with oil in a dutch oven or cocotte. Or any oven proof dish with a lid that can do both hobtop and oven service (we picked up a Dunnes deal for €20 on cast iron ceramic pots). Failing that, the entire thing can be made in a thick bottomed pot on the hob.
Remove the shanks, and gently fry your onions for 5 minutes. They mustn't brown. Add you ground spices, and gently fry for a further minute. The kitchen will begin to fill with amazing aromas. The three hour cooking time allows the smells to waft everywhere in the house, whetting appetites to a frenzy.....And the smell will perfume every corner of your house.
Add everything, except the dried fruit to the pot, and bring back just to the boil. It is of prime importance that the meat does not get too hot. If it does, you will wind up with tough, inedible meat. Keep the temperature low, and the meat falls apart on the plate. As soon as it boils, turn down the heat if you are leaving it on the hob.

Cover, and place in the centre of your oven for 2 hours 30 minutes, or, place on a low heat on the hob top for the same time. Occasionally turn the meat in the sauce. What you want here is a low simmer, the occasional bubble rising lethargically to the surface.

Remove from the oven, or hob top, add the dried fruits, and cook, uncovered, for a further 20 or thirty minutes. Braises are a forgiving art, thankfully, and not an exacting science. Remove the bay leaves, and cinnamon bark.
A typical issue with braises, however well done, is that they produce really flavourful sauces, which are as thin as water. Profoundly frustrating to have so much lusciousness just trickle off your spoon thinly. The sauce has little chance to reduce, because of being covered, and the necessity for low cooking temperatures. And this dish really needs a sticky, glutinous, thick and clingy blanket of the fantastic braising sauce. Most thickeners on hand in the average kitchen will dull the sauce. Starch is a sin here.

Simple solution.
Ladle out a pile of the liquid (roughly half to two thirds), and some of the fruit and onions (try to leave at least half of each still whole in the dish), and blend them to a puree consistency. Mix this back in with the meat and remaining liquid in the sauce. Works perfectly, and delivers an undiluted kick of North African heat and flavour, which sticks to the meat, and soaks up wholesale into the grains you serve it with.

Serve with couscous, or rice, or a tabouleh.

Recipe notes.
Be careful with harissa. It can have quite a pungent chilli heat, and can overwhelm the dish easily. The version for sale in the Asia market is quite hot.
I replaced the dried fruits most recently with large sultanas, and raisins, which worked well, and at a fraction of the cost of apricots and dates.
I've also tried this recipe with a whole chicken, to excellent effect (Note to self - would pork belly braise well in this?, unsalted hocks? pork shoulder? a slow cook cut of beef? Mutton would be amazing.....), and have cooked the entire dish - enough for 6 hungry mouths - at just under a tenner, all told.
Pureeing some of the sauce really improves the dish.
Often, there's a thick and ample remainder of sauce left in the bottom of the pot. Perfect as a base for a spicy vegetable or lentil soup, though, with enough heads and bread, that may not be a possibility.

On heat and braising. Slow and low means luscious and sweet. There is no shortcut here. The in ital browning does, however, give you those yummy little Maillard reactions, while leaving the bulk of the meat unaffected. Ooo maaaa meee.


kitten kitchen said...

This sounds gorgeous! I must give it a go once the January diet is out of the way. Thanks for sharing.

Keith said...

Thanks. It is quite nice. Must post the accompanying couscous recipe from the Gorgeous C.

Anna Bee said...

Sounds yummy - must try it!

Keith said...

It's really, really good.

Could be excellent with some of that pork you were talking about - shoulder braises well......I wonder.

Not really a North African meat, with Islamic dietary restrictions....

Anna Trombley said...

Ah. Mild & drizzly, here in the pacific northwest, but soul-warming braises go right to the core here as well.
Can't find my braised lamb shank recipies since I moved 3 months ago, so I googled, and ended up with yours. Added diced pork belly, 1/2 a bottle of red wine, and some fresh rosemary & tarragon. (I would make a terrible moslem, heathen that I am....) Served with hand-rolled Moroccan cous cous, baked sweet potatoes, and tuscan kale, braised till tender in olive oil, lemon & white wine. Accompanied by a Columbia Valley syrah. happy Holiday & thanks! I very mucgh appreciated the technical notes on the properties of the braise, helped me keep my oven low enough - the meet was melting & fork tender & unctious with rich & spicy flavors!

Keith said...

Glad I could be of service.

The Pacific Northwest sounds pretty much like our Northwest then. Drizzly, cold, with a clammy handed climate that grips you to the bone.

Syrah is just the grape. Wonder how the diced mpork belly worked out? Guessing it added extra layers of mothfeel, and some good base notes to the flavour.

You can slap your oven even lower, to get amazing texture and tasta. Put it in at 100 degress C or so for about 24 hours, and you should get something special.

MMM.....feels liuke an experiment coming on....

mgodino said...

"the deep umami"? What trite amd pure shite.