Did you know, there’s a reason why lamb is so popular on the menu during the winter months? Lamb is considered a “warming food.” In the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it’s been used to help fight the cold and improve circulation during the chilly months. I absolutely love cooking with lamb all year long, whether it’s grilled lamb chops or my Herbed Lamb and White Bean Ragout.
The Beauty of Braising
If you only learn a few cooking techniques in your life, make sure braising is one of them! Braising is such a forgiving way to cook. There is so much room for improvisation once you learn the steps. Braising helps to transform tough cuts of meat into tender pieces of meat, while still maintaining all of the flavor and moistness of the dish. Any other ingredients that you add during the cooking process will absorb all of those wonderful flavors.
Lamb shanks are a tough cut of meat that I love to cook low and slow until they’re buttery and falling-off-the-bone tender. My recipe for Spice-Braised Lamb Shanks is Moroccan-inspired with dried apricots, red wine, tomatoes, cinnamon, and cumin. This dish is beyond flavorful, hearty, and so worth the effort.
A couple of years ago I took a girls trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. We were lucky enough to take a cooking workshop at La Maison Arabe where we learned from dadas (traditional Moroccan cooks). They had cooking classes almost every day! I highly recommend this workshop as a great way to experience Moroccan culture through their cuisine. After my trip I was inspired to cook with all kinds of Moroccan flavors and spices in my recipes.
When it comes to herbs that go with lamb, I LOVE chopped mint as a garnish. It cuts right through the richness of the lamb and adds a fresh element against all of the hearty meat and vegetables. I’d say fresh mint can level up just about any salad, soup, or entree on your dinner table!
Some of my other favorite spices in this dish are ginger, cardamom, coriander, and cinnamon stick. When it comes to savory dishes, I prefer to use cinnamon sticks as opposed to ground cinnamon. The flavor is subtle and it’ll slowly season your meat and vegetables throughout the whole cooking process.
It’s always a good idea to caramelize your meat before braising. Not only does the browning make your dish look beautiful, but it adds an amazing amount of rich flavor to the pot.
Spice-Braised Lamb Shanks with Apricots
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 large lamb shanks sawed crosswise by the butcher into thirds
- 2 cups yellow onion chopped
- 1½ cups carrot chopped
- 8 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp ground cumin preferably from toasted seeds
- 10 green cardamom pods lightly crushed with any seeds that come free
- 1 3-inch piece cinnamon stick
- ¾ tsp dried thyme crumbled
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp Hungarian hot paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- 2½ cups + 1 Tbsp chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- ¾ cup red wine such as Merlot
- ¾ cup canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
- 8 ounces dried apricots cut in half lengthwise
- ½ cup pine nuts toasted
- ½ cup mint roughly chopped
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F
- Set a large, heavy 5 ½-quart ovenproof pan (such as a Dutch oven or a covered flameproof casserole) over medium high heat. Add 1 ½-tablespoons of the oil. When it is hot, working in 3or 4 batches, cook the lamb shank pieces, turning them occasionally, until they are lightly and evenly browned, about 10 minutes per batch. With a slotted spoon, transfer the browned shanks to a bowl. Add an additional ½ tablespoon oil to the pan if needed to prevent sticking.
- Pour off the oil from the pan but do not clean it. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and set the pan over low heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon stick, thyme, ginger, coriander, black pepper, cayenne, paprika and bay leaf. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 10 minutes. Return the lamb to the pan. Add the 2 ½ cups stock, wine, tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring once or twice. Cover the pan, set it in the oven and bake for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Uncover the pan, stir in the apricots, and continue to cook, stirring once or twice, until the lamb is tender and beginning to fall from the bones, about 1 hour more.
- Remove from the oven, season to taste, and stir in half the pine nuts and half the mint. Use the last ¼ cup each of the pine nuts and mint to garnish
- Note: Other dried fruits, such as dried figs or golden raisins, can be substituted for the dried apricots.
If you can find grass-fed lamb, even better. In moderation, grass-fed meats are a great source of nutrients. I hope you’ll try this satisfying dish on your own. Lamb and apricots go together like grilled cheese and tomato soup! I can’t wait to hear what you think in the comments section below.