Moroccan-Style Braised Lamb Shanks

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I realize, dear readers, that I can sometimes go a little nuts with the desserts on this blog.  I really have no excuse for why or how that happens.  It just does.  Perhaps I like the way desserts look when they’re finished.  Perhaps I make more desserts because I like the challenge or because I enjoy sharing them with friends.  Whatever the reason, I do it.

But I know there are some of you out there (you know who you are) that want a little more out of me – want me to have more meat-centric dishes on the blog.  Well, demand ask and you shall receive.

When confronted with the lack of meat dishes on the blog, I asked, “What can I cook for you?”  The answer I was given was pretty specific, “Perhaps something Moroccan.”  Alright, then.  Moroccan it is.

I just so happened to have a jar of homemade preserved lemons in the fridge waiting for just such an occasion.  I made them a few weeks ago and have been dreaming about what I would do with them.  How fortuitous!

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When I think of Morocco I think of lamb.  When I think of lamb I think stews or braises.  Slow-simmering sauces flavored with aromatics, spices, dried fruit, and perhaps fortified wine.  I was so excited to use the preserved lemons and so excited to try something new!  Off to the market to shop for lamb!

At the store I found two lovely lamb shanks that were perfect for this dish.  If you can only find lamb stew meat, that would work just fine.  And if lamb is nowhere to be found, beef would work in a pinch.  I knew the basic flavor profiles necessary to achieve a successful braise, and luckily, I had most of the other ingredients awaiting me in my kitchen.

This dish isn’t complicated at all.  It does require quite a few ingredients, but they’re not so exotic that you won’t use them again in other dishes.

The only major requirement of this dish is time.  I’m sure it can be made in a slow cooker, but I prepared it in an enameled cast iron Dutch oven – one that can transfer from the stove top right to the oven.

Over the course of the 2-hour cooking time, your house will be filled with the most lovely and comforting aroma.  It is the type of fragrance that makes me want to curl up on a sofa in front of a roaring fireplace and sip on a glass of wine.  This really is a great dish for just such an activity, as the hard work is completed by the oven.

So, please, give this a try.  Prep the shanks, sear them off, and let the braising liquid do the rest.  Don’t forget to pour that glass of wine.  You earned it.

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Moroccan-Style Braised Lamb Shanks
Serves 2

Ingredients

For marinade:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, grated
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon preserved lemon (or 1/4 of a preserved lemon) *
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon harissa (North African hot chili paste)
zest and juice of one small orange

For braise:

2 lamb shanks, 12-16-ounces each
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced sweet onion
1 cup chopped carrots
2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup tawny Port or other fortified wine, such as Madeira or Marsala
2 cups beef broth
3/4 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/2 raisins

* If you don’t have or can’t find preserved lemons (usually found at African markets) go ahead and zest a lemon and toss that in with the marinade.

Method:

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the marinade and stir well.  Add lamb shanks to bowl and coat meat with the mixture.  Now, you can go straight to cooking this, or, if you think ahead (I did not) the lamb can be marinated in the fridge for several hours in this mixture, or as long as overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat.  When shimmering, add the lamb shanks and brown on all sides, approximately 8 minutes total time.  Remove browned shanks to plate to rest while you prepare the rest of the braise.  Make sure to keep the remaining marinade – you’ll be adding that to the pot later.

If needed, add a little more olive oil to the pot and add the onions, carrots, and garlic.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are browned and starting to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine, and using a flat wooden spoon, scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add the beef broth and remaining marinade and bring to a simmer.  Add the shanks back into the pot and spoon some sauce and onions over the meat.

Cover tightly and bake for 90 minutes, opening the oven a few times to turn shanks.

After 90 minutes, add the apricots and raisins, cover, and cook an additional 30-minutes.

Remove meat from pot and reduce sauce over high heat for about 5 minutes until it turns a rich glossy brown.  Pour sauce over lamb and serve.  I served this on a bed of quinoa, but you could make rice or couscous to go with it if you like.

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