My favorite cold weather comfort food technique is braising. Braising is cooking meat, usually with the bone very slowly in the oven or on the cooktop. Lamb shanks are great to braise, and this is one of my favorite recipes. I save the extra spice blend in a jar and use it as a rub for grilling steaks and chicken. The Moroccan flavors of the spices, braise and chickpeas are warming and irresistible. If Harissa is not available at the market, feel free to substitute sriracha hot sauce.
This recipe is derived from Food & Wine magazine circa 2009. This recipe will yield enough sauce for 8 servings–one shank per guest. I usually cook 4-6 shanks and do not adjust any of the recipe quantities. Leftover shanks, shredded from the bone and mixed and reheated with some leftover sauce make THE BEST sloppy joe style sandwiches.
Merguez Spiced Lamb Shanks with Chickpeas
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon fennel seed
3 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/4 cup paprika (I use a combo of sweet and hot)
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cayenne
Up to 8 lamb shanks
Salt (I use Kosher)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 quarts low sodium chicken stock (I combine one quart stock and water as needed)
1 15 ounce can crushed tomatos
2 15 ounce cans chickpeas (perhaps one more can if feeding hungry guests)
Harissa or sriracha for serving
To make the spice blend, grind all whole spices in a spice grinder and add to a bowl with the pre ground spice ingredients, mix well and set aside.
Preheat Oven to 325
Pre-heat a large dutch oven on the cooktop over medium high heat, melt the butter and add 1/4 cup olive oil. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and dredge the shanks in flour. Shake off the excess flour and add lamb to cooking vessel, making sure not to crowd the pan. Brown the shanks, turning frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until GBD. This is a tedious, yet important step. If the pan and oil start to smoke and set off your fire alarm, turn down the heat. If all the shanks do not fit in the pan, do this step in batches. Set all the browned shanks aside (I use the lid to my dutch oven to hold the shanks as to not dirty another dish).
If there is excessive fat in the pan, discard all but a tablespoon or so (I rarely have this issue). With the heat on moderate, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add 4 heaping tablespoons of the spice mix with the tomato paste, and stir for a few minutes. Add a cup or so of chicken stock, and scrape the bottom of the pot, releasing all the brown bits. Add the crushed tomatoes.
Add the lamb shanks back to the pot and barely cover with the stock. Cover the pot, bring to a simmer and place in the oven. Cook the lamb shanks for 90 minutes. The meat should be falling off the bone.
Remove the shanks and skim the fat off the top of the braising liquid. If time allows, reduce the braising liquid until it has thickened slightly. Add the chickpeas and heat until simmering.
T0 serve, spoon a portion of sauce and chickpeas on a plate and place a shank on top. If the shanks have cooled while reducing, reheat them by putting them back in the sauce.
Pass Harissa at the table.