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!

Short ribs in Irish stout

I’m a HUGE fan of Adele. I was lucky enough to fly to Belfast to see her perform live in Belfast on the first night of her tour. Adele was the best part of the trip but coming in a close second was the delicious food we got to eat.
Beef short ribs braised in Irish stout

A traditional Irish stew is made with lamb but Whole Foods had a good deal on local Maine short ribs so I decided on a braised short rib in ale this chilly weekend. I’ve previously made this braise with Guinness Irish stout and found it a little too intense and bitter so I plumped for two bottles of local Maine beer. The first is a rich Irish-style black stout and then to counter the richness, a lighter Belgian-style saison ale both from Allagash Brewery. Murphy’s or Boddington beers work well too. Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste boost the umami flavors. The word braise is French in origin and usually involves searing food at a high-temperatur and then finishing in a covered pot at a lowered temperature submerged in a liquid (which may also add flavor).

A braise is best done low and slow with a well-marbled cut of beef – chuck, short ribs, round roast – which will stay moist, become spoon-tender and start to fall apart after an afternoon in the oven. Well-marbled cuts of meat are also more fatty so I like to make this stew the day before to allow time to chill and defat it before serving. Here’s a 15-second video of what happened in the pot:

I love the sweetness that carrots add to the braise but after 4+ hours of cooking they can get a little mushy. If you like a mushy carrot then it’s all good! If you’re fussy about your carrots like me, you can strain the braising liquid, remove the sacrificial carrots, onion and celery and then cook up a new batch of carrots to add back to the defatted sauce with the beef.

You’ll spend a little time up-front quickly chopping the vegetables into hearty chunks (no fiddly dice here!) and browning the meat but then you throw it all into the oven and let the beef gently braise in the beer while your house fills with mouth-watering smells. Short ribs can shrink quite alarmingly during the cooking process so I bank on 2 short ribs per person, this is somewhat excessive but makes for delicious leftovers. How long you need to cook your stew for will depend on the exact cut of meat. My end-point is when I lift a piece of meat from the braise and it starts to fall apart like this:
Fall-apart beef short ribs braised in a rich Irish stout

Braised Short Ribs in Irish-style Stout

  • Servings: 4 greedy people
  • Difficulty: pretty easy
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Ingredients:

24 fl oz of beer. I used an Irish-style stout and a Belgian-style Saison
4lb boneless short ribs (~8 short ribs)
4 oz diced pancetta (or bacon)
5 carrots – peeled and chopped into thick slices (plus more for serving if you like)
3 sticks of celery – chopped into thick slices
2 onions – chopped into thick slices
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 oz (half a small can) of tomato paste (I like Muir Glen)
32 fl oz (1 carton) unsalted beef broth
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Optional: a few sprigs of fresh thyme

Directions:

  1. Pour flour onto large plate or into baggie. Add 1tsp salt, 1tsp pepper and 1 tsp dry mustard powder (optional). Dredge short ribs in seasoned flour (don’t throw away the leftover flour remaining on the plate)
  2. In a Dutch oven over a medium heat, dry-fry the pancetta until the fat renders out and it starts to turn golden brown
  3. Lower heat, add onions and cook for 10 minutes
  4. Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes
  5. Remove vegetables and pancetta from pot (set aside in bowl), add butter and olive oil to pot.
  6. Increase heat to high and quickly sear the pieces of floured meat. Don’t crowd the pan or the meat will just steam. You’re aiming for a nice brown crust. As each piece of meat is browned, remove to a plate.
  7. With heat still on high, pour in the beer and with a wooden spoon, really put some elbow grease in to loosen all of the brown fond (sticky brown cooked-in goodness) on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan feels smooth (like you’ve incorporated all of the toasty bits into the liquid), add the tomato paste.
  8. Add a tablespoon of the leftover seasoned flour and whisk until the tomato paste and flour are incorporated into the beer. The sauce should start to thicken up alarmingly at this point.
  9. Add the beef broth, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and pop the short ribs, vegetables and thyme back into the pot. You want the meat to be completely submerged so add a little more broth or water if you need to.
  10. Pop the lid on and cook in a 315 degree F oven for ~4 hours (stir at the halfway point). The exact cooking time will depend on your cut of meat. If you want to speed up the cooking time you could cube the beef at the beginning. I’ll just give the beef a little stir and poke every now and again until it’s literally spoon-tender
  11. Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight.
    Easy option: Refrigerate the whole pot overnight. To serve, scrape off the yellow fat on the top and then cook at 350 degrees until piping hot.
    More fiddly option (my preference): Put the shorts ribs in a baggie with a spoon or two of the cooking liquid and refrigerate. Strain the braising liquid into a jar or container and refrigerate. Throw away the mushy vegetable. When you’re ready to serve, cook the shorts ribs in the strained, defatted braising liquid and add some freshly sauteed, roasted or boiled (non-mushy) carrots. Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning (salt and black pepper). A little dash of balsamic vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice will brighten the flavors.Serve piping hot over creamy mashed potatoes

Pin or save this one for St Patrick’s Day!
Melt-in-your-mouth short ribs in a rich Irish ale gravy

Variations: For a more “elegant” dish you can swap the beer for a hearty red wine and serve with buttered noodles and a crisp green salad. If you prefer to cook without alcohol, use unsalted beef stock.

Make-ahead brunch pastry recipe

One of the hazards joys of having a home on a lake in Maine is how your popularity exponentially increases through the summer months. Friends who are radio-silent from November-April suddenly announce they’ll be “in the area and might stop by!” once the weather warms up.

Kidding! We really enjoy having (invited) friends to visit and this is one of my go-to recipes when I want to serve something for brunch or even an afternoon snack but not spend the weekend resentfully cooking in the kitchen.

I call it a brunch pastry but the magnificent Chef Barbara Lynch (who created the original recipe) calls it “Ham and cheese puff-pastry bites with honey mustard”. It’s make-ahead so you can prepare the night before and your only job in the morning will be to pop it in the oven and mix up a batch of mimosas or bloody marys.

Buttery flaky puff pastry with melty gruyere, tuscan ham and caramelized onions

Chef Lynch writes that this is the one time you want to splurge on the more expensive Dufour puff pastry vs. the cheaper (and not as buttery) Pepperidge Farm and she’s 100% right.

Imagine the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Now replace the bread with flaky and buttery pastry. Intrigued? Then read on…

You’ll roll out your first sheet of puff pastry and spread it with a tangle of caramelized onions in honey and mustard. Chef Lynch recommends blitzing the mixture but I like the texture of the onions. These pictures were from the first time I made the pastry and I now increase the quantities of the onions – they’re so good (recipe at the end of the post). If you were really, really pressed for time or just being lazy, you could skip this part and just spread with a little store-bought honey-mustard. 

Drape your favorite ham over the onions

Cover the ham in grated gruyere cheese and then use a little egg wash to seal the top piece of pastry in place.

Bake until the top is a beautiful golden brown

Leave to cool for a few minutes and then cut into tasty little squares. It’s a rich and decadent little pastry so 2-4 bites per person is just right. You’ll also want a supply of napkins on hand if you’re entertaining or you can just lick your fingers if you’re alone!
And although it’s the best brunch recipe, it would be equally as good if you were doing cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the evening.

Brunch Pastry with Tuscan ham, Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions

  • Servings: 8-12 people as a brunch snack
  • Difficulty: easy
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Author: www.MainelyEating.com

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 large Vidalia onion (or two smaller onions) – sliced as thinly as possible (ideally on a mandolin)
3 tbsp honey
2 tsbp Dijon mustard (more if you like things mustardy)
2 packages of Dufour puff pastry (defrosted) or 1 package of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (if you really can’t find Dufour)
1/2 lb thinly sliced good quality ham – Tuscan ham, Niman Ranch Jambon Royale, Prosciutto Cotto)
1/2 lb+ Gruyere cheese (grated)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
A little flour for dusting rolling pin and parchment paper
Maldon sea salt

You’ll need 2 flat cookie sheets and parchment paper.

Directions:

  1. Make the honey-mustard-caramelized onion mixture. Over a low heat, cook the onion in the oil and butter.for at least 30-60 minutes. The longer the better. Keep the heat low enough that the onion doesn’t brown prematurely. Add the honey. mustard and a little salt and pepper to the onions. Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat over to 375 degrees F
  3. Roll out the first sheet of puff pastry on a piece of (lightly floured) parchment paper. Slide this onto the baking sheet (the paper should be between the baking sheet and the pastry).
  4. Spread the pastry with the onion/honey/mustard mixture. Important! Leave a 1 inch border around the edge.
  5. Drape the ham over the onions (I like to remove any really fatty bits because I’m weird like that)
  6. Cover the ham with grated gruyere cheese – remember to leave the border clear again so you can seal the pastry later.
  7. Roll out the second layer of pastry on another piece of (lightly floured) parchment paper.
  8. Brush the border with the beaten egg, don’t throw away the remaining egg.
  9. Take the second layer of pastry (on the parchment paper) and carefully flip it over (the paper should be on top – this is a ham and cheese pastry, not a ham, cheese and paper pastry!).
  10. Gently press down on the border with your fingers (the egg wash acts like glue to stick the two pieces of pastry together) and then use the tines of a fork to give it an extra seal. If you’re making ahead, this is where you’d stop, collaborate and listen cover the pastry on the baking sheet with saran wrap making sure it’s tightly wrapped so it doesn’t dry out.
  11. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with a little Maldon sea salt. Then – don’t skip this step or your pastry will balloon alarmingly – lay a piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry and cover with the second baking sheet. This will weigh down the pastry and prevent it from puffing up too much. If you’re getting confused with the layers, there’s a picture guide at the end!
  12. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, then remove the top baking sheet and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the top is a perfect golden brown.
  13. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then cut into tasty little squares.

If you don’t have a copy of Barbara Lynch’s book “Stir” then you should stop whatever you’re doing and order it RIGHT NOW. Click on the thumbnail below to get your own copy (affiliate link).