Fragrant Lamb Shanks

A selection of colorful herbs and spices for a fragrant lamb shank recipe - inspiration from Morocco and North AfricaI recently read that the average American consumes just 1lb of lamb vs. a whopping 61lb of beef each year and up to 50% of Americans have never even tried lamb! I guess if I was a member of the sheep family I’d let out a grateful bleet at this news.

Growing up in the UK, we would quite often have roast lamb for Sunday lunch and my home-town dish of scouse wouldn’t exist without lamb. Here in Maine, we have fabulous local lamb available to us and when I saw the lamb shanks from North Star Sheep Farm I couldn’t resist buying them to make this flavorful Morrocan-inspired Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise.
Fragrant and fork-tender lamb shanks on a bed of lemon cous cous

Lamb is super tasty, rich in iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B-12 and niacin, AND grass-fed lamb is loaded with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an important omega-3 fatty acids), in fact lamb contains 5 times as much healthy ALA as beef!

Lamb shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb, braise them slowly (similar to beef short ribs), and they’ll transform into fork-tender, melt-in-your-mouth shreds of juicy meat. Lamb also holds up well to bold flavors so I decided to look to the countries bordering the Mediterranean sea – Greece, Turkey, Morocco and North Africa.
Raw ingredients including Maine lamb shanks for a Moroccan-inspired lamb shank recipe

Za’atar (Zahtar) is Middle Eastern mix of up to 90% toasted sesame seeds and dried sumac with the remaining made up of a mix of other herbs including thyme, oregano, marjoram, cumin. Great to mix with olive oil for a tasty dip with fresh bread or coat a chicken before roasting.

Ras El Hanout is a North African spice mix of ginger, paprika, cassia, coriander, cumin, sugar, salt, tumeric, chili, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, rose petals, nigella, allspice, nutmeg, galangal.

I generally like to make this fragrant lamb shank braise the day before I want to eat it, the flavors improve overnight and I can chill, defat and then reduce down the braising liquid but most lamb shanks aren’t too fatty so in a pinch you could make and serve it on the same day. The last time I made these I ended up with ~6 cups of braising liquid (this includes the onions, tomatoes, eggplant etc) which I reduced down to about 3 1/2 cups the next day. Here’s the lamb and the braising liquid after a night in the fridge – you just scrape off the layer of yellow fat:

Cliff notes for the experienced cook: Just brown the lamb shanks for extra flavor, add in all of the vegetables, herbs and spices, and cook until the lamb is falling off the bone. Chill and defat the braising liquid, reduce it for a thicker sauce, add back the lamb and brighten with a little lemon juice. Great to make ahead when entertaining, also freeze well!
Step-by-step guide to making a fragrant lamb shank braise recipe

Fragrant Lamb Shank Braise

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

4 lamb shanks (~3lbs)
1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, half-moon slices
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely sliced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp each cayenne, ras el hanout, za’atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns.
~3oz medjool dates, chopped
Cinnamon stick
1 large eggplant or 2 small. Peel skin and chop into 1 inch squares
14.5 oz can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes
32 fl oz chicken or vegetable stock (low sodium)
1/2 lemon
Fresh cilantro (or flat leaf parsley if you’re not a cilantro fan!)
Salt and pepper.

DIrections

  1. In an oven-safe casserole dish over a medium high heat, sear lamb shanks in the butter and oil, remove from dish and set aside
  2. Add a little more oil if dish is dry, over medium heat, add chopped onion, crushed garlic and grated ginger and stir well to combine.
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon each cayenne, ras el hanout, zaatar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, pink peppercorns, stir well to combine, cook 5 minutes, your kitchen will start to smell amazing.
  4. Add chopped dates and the cinnamon stick, diced eggplant/aubergine and the can of fire-roasted tomatoes and stir well to combine.
  5. Nestle lamb shanks back in and pour over just enough stock to just cover. If your carton of stock doesn’t cover the lamb, add water.
  6. Cover and pop in a 325 degree oven for about 3-4 hours. Gently turn the lamb shanks every hour or so. The exact time will depend on the size of the shanks and your oven. Check them after 30 minutes, you want a simmering/little bubbling but not frantic boil. Adjust the oven temperature as necessary. If the shanks are particularly large, you might need to cook for up to 4 hours. They’re done when a little poke with a fork makes the meat just flake off.
  7. Take out of oven and put shanks in a shallow dish (handle them carefully, the meat will fall off the bone), pour over a little cooking liquid to keep them moist, cover tightly and pop in fridge. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cool cooking liquid overnight in fridge.
  8. The next morning, remove the thin layer of yellow fat that’s collected on the top of the braising liquid. Put the braising liquid back in the oven (uncovered) at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes until it has more of a sauce-like consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 lemon to brighten the flavors.
  10. Reduce oven to 350 and gently add back lamb shanks, cook until piping hot.

To serve, you can take the meat off the bone if you think bones will freak out your guests but I like to serve a whole shank per person on a bed of lemon couscous (cook couscous according to directions, replacing liquid with juice of 1 lemon and unsalted chicken stock, stir in lemon zest and a spoon of butter) or quinoa. Sprinkle over the fresh cilantro or parsley.

This is a very forgiving dish. If you skipped all the herbs and spices it would still be a tasty meaty dish, just not with the same fragrant depth. Although I’d try to at least get your hands on the Za’atar (because you’ll definitely use it again with a little olive oil as a dip).

You can also really make it your own recipe. If you want to add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas in the last 30 minutes of cooking, go for it! Throw in a bunch of chopped carrots in the last hour – why not? Feel free to substitute zucchini/courgette instead of eggplant/aubergine – try it! It also adapts well for the slow cooker, just reduce the amount of stock as it won’t reduce down as much.

The cooked lamb shanks and sauce will freeze well so I usually make 4-6 servings and freeze half. Just defrost thoroughly and heat in the oven at 325-350 degrees until piping hot.
Lamb shank casserole with North African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern herbs and spices. So delicious!

Quick Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients for Beef StroganoffThere aren’t a lot of TV shows that Paul and I agree on. Probably because there aren’t a lot of TV shows I agree on period. But one show we both adore is The Americans on FX. From the first crazy-fast-paced episode we’ve been hooked. Set in the time of Ronald Reagan as president and at the height of the Cold War, The Americans tells the story about two Russian KGB spies living in surburban Washington D.C. with their family. Is it a real family? A real marriage? You have to watch to find out.

We binge watched – and by binge watched I mean, we were at risk of deep vein thrombosis from sitting/lying on the sofa for so long – series 1, 2 and 3 on Amazon Prime and I’ve been literally counting down the days until the start of series 4. I may have actually written “10pm! The Americans!” in my diary. Because I’m a bit sad like that sometimes.

So what to eat for dinner on such a night? I figured бефстроганов would be an appropriate Russian kind of food. That’s beef stroganoff to you and I. The first mention of “Beef a la Stronganov” was in a 1871 edition of a Russian cookbook “A Gift To Young Housewives” and involves beef, mustard and a little sour cream. Over the years, the recipe has evolved to include onions and mushrooms. A stroganoff is usually made with a cheaper cut of beef simmered until tender but I wanted a quicker cook time so came up with this version involving filet mignon. Yes, filet is a more expensive cut of meat but you can easily stretch one small filet between two people with this recipe.Beef Stroganoff with mushrooms over white rice
The quandary was that starting the recipe by searing the filet meant it was inevitably a little tough and chewy by the time the mushrooms and onions had cooked. So I tried searing the filet right at the end of the cooking process, just to the point of medium, and then finishing it off in the rich sauce. Perfect!

The whole thing takes about 20 minutes from start to finish but tastes like you’ve been toiling over the stove for hours. You’ll saute sliced onions in a little butter, add a healthy splash of brandy (skip this if you’re alcohol-free), add sliced mushrooms, stir in a little (or a lot) mustard, reduce down beef stock, add the seared filet, creme fraiche (or sour cream), and fresh parsley and serve over buttered noodles, rice or even mashed potatoes.
Step by step pictures of Beef Stroganoff Recipe

Beef Stroganoff

  • Servings: two
  • Difficulty: easy peasy
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Ingredients:

1/2 large or 1 small onion
2-3 tbsp butter
A shot glass of brandy or cognac
10-14oz mushrooms
1 tsp each Dijon & Wholegrain mustard (more if you’re a mustard fan!)
1.5 cups unsalted beef stock
1 filet mignon steak ~8oz
Pink peppercorns
1 tsp flour
2 tbsp creme fraiche (or sour cream)
Small bunch fresh parsley
1/2 a lemon

To serve: your favorite cooked rice or buttered noodles.

Directions:

1. Slice onion into thin half moon slices
2. Melt 1 tbsp of butter over low-medium heat in large pan (large enough to hold beef, onions, mushrooms and sauce by the end)
3. Add sliced onions to pan, season and cook until just starting to brown, stirring frequently (~10 minutes).
4. While onions cook, prepare the mushrooms. Brush away any dirt, trim woody stems and cut mushrooms into generous slices.
5. Turn heat up high, wait for 30 seconds for pan to get really hot and then add brandy. Everything will sizzle up and the alcohol in the brandy will cook off.
6. Add the mushrooms to the onions. If the pan looks too dry, add another 1 tbsp butter. Cook until the mushrooms are soft (~10 minutes). Add the mustard and stir into the mushrooms.
7. Add beef stock and cook until the liquid has reduced by half (if you drag a spoon across the pan you should see a clear line before the thickened stock covers the line). Lower the heat to the lowest setting and prepare the beef.
8. Slice the filet into thick strips and crush the peppercorns. Press the filet into the crushed peppercorns and add a sprinkle of salt (preferably Maldon sea salt) and the flour.
9. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp butter and a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and taking care not to crowd the pan, quickly cook the filet strips until just about medium (about 2 minutes on either side worked for me, you want to cook it to just medium with a little pink in the center so it stays tender).
10. Add the seared filet and creme fraiche to the mushroom/onion pan and stir through. Cook for another minute or so until filet is still tender and sauce is hot throughout. Sprinkle over chopped parsley, add a good squeeze of lemon juice (the acidity will really brighten up the sauce) and serve.


A delicious bowl of Beef Stroganoff with filet mignon and mushrooms

Приятного аппетита! (Bon Appetit in Russian!)

Did you watch the series premiere of The Americans on Wednesday? What did you think? Perhaps you can make this dish for the series finale? I’ll be drowning my sorrows with White Russians when series 4 comes to an end…

Arugula and Goat Cheese Pasta Recipe

I *just* had my first recipe request! How fun! A “recipe to improve the dating life of a random college student out in Washington, DC“! I racked my brains for the perfect dish that would be affordable on a student budget, relatively easy to cook but still feel special, and of course, be super tasty.

I was reminded of a pasta dish I used to regularly make (why did I stop?!?), I originally named it “If salad and pasta got together and had a baby…” but that sounds a little weird so Arugula and Goat Cheese Pasta it is. The peppery herbaceous flavor of the arugula cuts through the slippery pasta rich with the creamy goat cheese. Fun fact – arugula is known as rocket in the UK.

A creamy pasta without the cream! Peppery arugula, rich goat cheese and crispy bacon make for a great date night pasta recipe.

This is a very flexible recipe, if your date happens to be vegetarian you can easily skip the bacon (just start cooking the onions in a little olive oil and butter) and swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock and it’s still really delicious. If you’re fond of mushrooms you can add more (I usually do the full 10 oz – half regular white mushrooms and half whatever looks good in the store – chestnut, shitake, oyster). You can kick the taste up with thyme or parsley, pine nuts and a squeeze of lemon juice but if you don’t have those ingredients, it won’t ruin your date night.

Ingredients for Arugula and Goat Cheese pastaNot pictured – chicken stock, butter, optional – parmesan cheese, lemon and a small onion – because they wouldn’t fit 😉 If you have a long day of classes, you can get some of the prep done in advance the night before – finely chop the onion, mince the garlic, chop the mushrooms, grate the cheese and store them all separately in the fridge (wrap tightly in plastic wrap, foil or baggies)

Peppery baby arugula cuts the richness of the goat cheese in this simple yet elegant pasta dish.

If you’re an experienced cook, you can chop as you go but if you’re newer to cooking I’d recommend having everything prepped (onions, garlic, mushroom chopped, cheese grated/crumbled) to remove any stress. Bonus – if you’d like to cook together, you can assign mushroom chopping or cheese grating to make it into a team-effort dinner.

Cliffnotes: cook the bacon until crispy, remove and set aside, cook the onion in the bacon fat, add the mushrooms and cook until nutty and brown with a little garlic, remove and set aside. Add chicken stock and reduce by 50%. Add mushrooms back to pan. Add freshly cooked pasta (reserve cooking water!), butter, parmesan (if using) and toss. Add arugula, crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts (if using). Salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. If dry, loosen with pasta water. Top with crumbled crispy bacon and a little more goat cheese.
How to make arugula and goat cheese pasta with bacon and pine nuts

And there are just enough breaks in the cooking for excellent conversation…

arugula and goat cheese pasta

  • Servings: two cuties on a date
  • Difficulty: easy
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Note all of the ingredients give an approximate range, if you like more bacon, use more bacon, if you’re ambivalent about mushrooms, use less 😉

Ingredients:

4-6 oz of bacon (preferably center cut which is less fatty)
1 small onion (or half a large onion)
5-10 oz of mushrooms (any combination of white, chestnut, shiitake)
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp butter (~1/4 of a stick)
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bag of baby arugula (3-5 oz)
1 small log of plain goat cheese, usually 4oz
Your choice of dried pasta – linguine, fettucini, tagliatelle
Optional: fresh herbs (thyme or parsley), a lemon, pine nuts, small piece of parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Chop the bacon into bite size pieces (kitchen shears make this much easier)
2. Chop the onion into a fine dice and crush the garlic in a garlic crusher (or slice as finely as possible)
3. Brush any dirt from the mushrooms and chop them into slices. Remove the woody stems from shiitake mushrooms if using.
4. Grate the parmesan cheese (if using), crumble the goat cheese into little pieces like small popcorn.
5. Put a large pot of water on to boil and add a good tablespoon of salt
6. In a large pan (large enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients AND the pasta), cook the bacon over a very low heat for a few minutes. The fat will start to render out and you can turn the heat up higher until the bacon reaches the desired level of crispness. Stir regularly to stop the bacon sticking.
7. Remove the bacon and set aside. Lower the heat and add the onions, cook until they are translucent (about 3-5 minutes), stirring regularly.
8. Add the mushrooms (salt and pepper too!) to the onions and continue to stir regularly over a medium heat. If your pan seems dry, you can add a glug of olive oil. Cook until the mushrooms are just starting to turn golden and then remove the mushroom/onion mix and set aside.
9. Add the chicken stock (don’t worry if there are a few pieces of mushroom or onion left in the pan, they’ll add more flavor) and turn the heat up high, stir to loosen any tasty brown bits in the bottom of the pan. Cook until the chicken stock is reduced to about half (about 5-10 minutes). Turn the heat way down to the lowest setting and add the mushrooms/onion mix back to the pan. Taste and add salt/pepper if necessary.
10. Put the pasta in the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain in a colander and try to save some of the cooking water (set a mug under the colander).
11. Add the pasta to the mushrooms, add a large knob of butter and parmesan (if using), toss vigorously (tongs or a couple of forks). If things seem dry, add a good glug of the reserved pasta water (the starchiness will help bind everything together).
12. Add 3/4 of the crumbled goat cheese, arugula, pine nuts (if using) and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Toss again. Add the bacon. Final toss.
13. Serve in warmed bowls/plates (from the oven on the lowest setting), with the rest of the crumbled goat cheese on top.

Excellent with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ

Cooking tips:

Mushrooms are tricky little fungi, they usually go through a mushy stage when they’re officially cooked but not looking too appetizing. You can stop cooking at this stage and it won’t have a major adverse effect on your dish but if you can bear it, keep the heat high and stir regularly, watch the mushrooms like a hawk and you’ll be rewarded with a just browning/nutty tasting mushroom that will be absolutely delicious.

The last few steps all happen in a matter of seconds (adding the pasta, butter, parmesan, arugula, goat cheese, pine nuts) so having everything ready and bowls/plates warmed and ready to go will make your life easier.

Mouthwatering pasta recipe with nutty pan roasted mushrooms, peppery arugula, creamy goat cheese and crispy bacon.

Do we have any other cooking suggestions or recipe ideas for our college student? Will the cooking work out? More importantly, will there be a second date? Stay tuned…

If you have your own recipe requests, I’d love to hear from you. You can use the contact form above or email mainelyeatingblog @ gmail.com (remove the spaces!)