Braising may be my favorite cooking method of all time, and clearly, I’m not alone. Nearly every cuisine on the planet practices some form of braising. From tagines to slow cookers, braising is a friend to anyone with a hectic, fast-paced life. And because it’s best deployed on tough, cheap cuts of meat, braising not only saves time, it saves money. Take today’s Spiced Apple Lamb Shanks for example. This dish took exactly 20 minutes of active prep time. Once it was in the oven, I folded socks, painted my toenails, re-watched 2 choice episodes of Chef’s Table, and contemplated numerous reconfigurations of my home bar. I didn’t follow through with any of them because that would’ve involved, you know, work. But the point is I had a luxurious amount of time to waffle about it.
Today’s Spiced Apple Lamb Shanks may be cooked in a tagine, but they’re not particularly Moroccan. Sure, the dish includes cinnamon and, obviously, lamb but it also has Parmesan rinds and few other less than traditional ingredients. This dish borrows more from Osso Buco than any tagine I’ve encountered.
I used a tagine because I just really like using tagines. I use mine whenever I feel compelled to cook something low and slow. The tagine’s cone-shaped lid gathers the condensation from the simmering dish and funnels the moisture back down resulting in super moist, fall-off-the-bone meat. It’s unique shape also results in an abundance of flavorful cooking liquid that you can use to make ridiculous sauces. So, consider thinking outside usual tagine fare and look at it as just another tool in your cookware arsenal.
I’ve always been a big fan of lamb. My mom makes the best leg of lamb roast around, but it’s not something I can make at home too often. It’s just too much meat for two people. And as much as I love lamb, I feel like three solid days of lamb leftovers would crush my spirit. That’s why I love lamb shanks. They’re like individual roasts that you don’t have to carve and everyone gets a bone to gnaw on.
When I was growing up, my mom always served lamb with bright green mint jelly and I loved the stuff. If I’m really being honest, I still do but these days I strive to be a little more classy. Not sure it’s working, but f*ck! Let’s keep reaching for that rainbow. Having said that, I’m dead set against serving lamb without some form of mint component. So, instead of the usual “what exactly is that?” mint jelly, I opted for a mint-infused celeriac parsnip mash. It was decidedly less sweet and far more earthy than the green stuff and the lightness of celeriac mash was almost refreshing next to the lamb. Lamb is such a flavourful, heavy meat, that I often find potatoes are too starchy to act as a companion. Celeriac has the creaminess of mashed potatoes without weight, making it the ideal sidekick to lamb.
Is everyone enjoying apple season as much as I am? I eat apples all year round, I almost always have a few granny smiths in my crisper (I prefer chilled apples). But when apple season hits, forget it! It feels like you’re experiencing apples for the first time. They’re so flavorful, crisp and juicy; they make out-of-season apples seem like sawdust. And the baked goods! The baked goods! These days you can’t walk into a coffee shop without smelling the familiar aroma of baked apples and cinnamon. You can’t escape the coziness, and really, why would you want to?
These Spiced Apple Lamb Shanks are perhaps not the best use of peak season gala apples, but I think they’re worth the sacrifice of a near perfect eating apple or two. The apples’ high concentration of flavor gives them a strong presence in the dish without using up too much pot real estate. In other words, you don’t need to cram eight apples in the tagine to get that apple flavor. One or two will do you. And that leaves you free to throw in slices of fennel, carrots and a parmesan rind or two. This is a clear-your-crisper kind of dish if there ever was one.
So, grab a few apples, a head of garlic and a lamb shank or two, and get ready to whip up the easiest and most flavorful meal around. If I sound like I’m overselling it, I’m not. These Spiced Apple Lamb Shanks are restaurant quality without the hustle.
- 4 lamb shanks
- 1 teaspoon crushed red flakes, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 gala apples, cored and cut into wedges
- 1/2 fennel bulb, cut into wedges
- 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 head garlic, top removed
- 1 large leek, washed and sliced
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 Parmesan rind
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh mint
- 2 ribbons of orange zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 celeriac root, peeled and cut into chunks
- 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 head of braised garlic
- 2 teaspoons fresh mint, chiffonade
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup 2% milk
- Preheat the oven to 250F.
- Pat the lamb shanks dry with paper towel and set aside.
- Place salt, crushed red pepper flakes and pepper in a small bowl. Stir to combine.
- Rub the spice mix evenly over the lamb shanks and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sear the shanks on all sides until crisp and deep amber.
- Transfer the browned shanks to the tagine.
- Nestle the apples, fennel, carrot, garlic, and leeks around the shanks and sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.
- Add the wine and chicken stock to the tagine followed by the rosemary, mint, orange zest, cinnamon stick and Parmesan rind.
- Cover the tagine and place it in the oven. Braise for 2 hours, turning the shanks once halfway through. The meat should pull away from the bones.
- Remove the tagine from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the shanks to a platter and, using a slotted spoon, scoop the vegetables from the braising liquid and place alongside the shanks.
- Strain the braising liquid of the remaining solids using a fine mesh strainer. Set the head of garlic aside and discard the rest of the solids.
- In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk the flour into the butter to form a roux. Cook the roux until fragrant and light amber.
- Whisk in the braising liquid and cook the mixture down until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Keep warm until ready to serve.
- In the last half hour of the lamb's cook time, place the celeriac and parsnips in a medium-sized pot. Cover the vegetables with water until fully immersed.
- Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the veg for 10-15 minutes or until tender.
- Drain the vegetables and transfer them to a large food processor.
- Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the reserved head of garlic from the lamb shanks. Add them to the food processor along with the fresh mint and salt. Blitz until smooth.
- With the food processor still running, stream in the milk and blitz until silky.
- Transfer the mash to a bowl and garnish with a pat of butter and fresh mint leaves.
- Serve warm alongside a platter of lamb shanks and a boat of gravy.