My love for lamb is no secret. Aside from being delicious on its own, it also pairs quite nicely with fruit, and if I tend to do anything, it’s to fall back on fruit (what’s your signature? We all have one). In this case, I saw a lamb shank that used blood oranges, and since I’ve been hoarding those, this seemed like a must try. So today, a lamb shank braised in blood orange, dried figs, and a variety of spices.
I had a hard time quite pinning down what corner of the world this dish would represent, but given the strong blend of spices (star anise, cardamom, cloves) mixed with figs, it seemed somewhat middle eastern (you be the judge). Whatever is a suitable origin for this, it was delicious. I love lamb shank because there pretty much isn’t a slow cooked piece of meat that doesn’t feel homey and comforting. On the downside, I always think braised lamb shank kind of loses some of that distinctly lamby flavor, so its also a good place if you’re trying to delicately get someone started on lamb. A gateway drug, er, dish if you will. The sauce starts out kind of simple, but after all that cooking, it takes on a deep color and a complex, hearty flavor. You have fruity notes from the tangy blood orange and figs while the spices just keep things sultry and interesting. Its a great pairing for fall-apart, fork-tender meat.
- olive oil
- 2 lamb leg shanks (mine were ~3 lbs each)
- celery seed
- fennel seed
- 3 star anise
- 5 cardamom pods (I used 3 green, 2 black)
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery
- 2 shallot
- 1 red bell pepper
- 8 cloves garlic
- 8 dried figs
- 4 blood oranges (zested and juiced, ~1.5 cups juice)
- 2 cups beef stock
- rosemary sprigs
Begin by zesting all of the blood oranges. Then cut them in half and juice them, reserving both the zest and juice for later.
As usual, finely chop the carrot, celery, shallot, pepper, and garlic. Also stem and chop up the dried figs and gather all the sauce-bound spices since its just easier to have it all out and in front of you.
With everything else ready, onto the lamb itself. Mix together the rub (in whatever proportions suit you–I’m not one to really measure out my rubs with any precision) and then pat it all over the shanks. In a large pot, warm up some olive oil and brown the shanks (work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan) for roughly 2 minutes per side. Set these aside for now.
In the same oil as before, fry the whole spices you set aside earlier for about 2 minutes. Then, add in and sauté the carrot, celery, shallot, and pepper until soft, somewhere around 8 minutes. Then add the garlic for a minute further. Deglaze the pan with the blood orange juice and stock, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom. Raise this to a boil and add the figs and rosemary to the mix.
Once boiling, return the lamb to the pot and do your best to submerge it in the liquid. Mine were huge so this wasn’t happening, so that makes rotating the shanks periodically during cooking all the more important (something I did roughly every 45 minutes-1 hour). Cover the pot and put it in a 350°F oven for anywhere between 2.5 and 4 hours (the goal is fork tender meat). I opted for 4 since I had a lot of meat in there.
When time is up, get the lamb out of the pot. Now, there could be a lot of fat sitting on top of all the liquid in the pot. Do your best to spoon it all out (likewise for the rosemary stem and whole spices). If you’d rather not bother with this step (and you have spare time!), you could just put the liquid in the fridge for several hours as the fat will solidify on top and make for easy removal. With the liquid cleaned of excess fat, puree it in a blender (or using one of my favorite toys: an immersion blender) so it looks more saucy rather than stewy. Reduce this liquid over high heat until you’re happy with the thickness (expect around 5-10 minutes or so). Then, portion the shanks how you’d like to serve them and return them to the pan to warm them back up.
I served this over a bed of cous cous with a good ladle of sauce on top (cous cous, rice, or other absorbent sides are good since you’ll want to sop that sauce right up). Enjoy!