Lamb is a rich meal, so count on one shank per person. (photo by Arild Finne Nybø)
This year, I plan to stray from my plebian Rosh Hashanah chicken and salmon, and go all in with lamb shanks. Even as I write this column, I don’t know whether or not we’ll be able to gather with family this year for the High Holidays. But, I’m hopeful. And, after spending a year-and-a-half’s worth of Jewish holidays celebrating via Zoom (or on our own), it’s left me remarkably unfazed. We have to eat, after all. It may as well be yummy. As my father always reminded me, “I am the most important guest in my own home!” So, lamb it is.
Being a shockingly bad liar, I feel compelled to come clean right at the get-go. I have never cooked this dish before. My husband Harvey is the lamb expert at our home. But it’s high (chai) time I stretched my culinary balabusta skills. For the record, I am breaking all my own rules, by making a dish that has more than five ingredients, and which looks like it’ll take a good hour or more to prepare. But we’re worth it. The end result will be a smooth, savoury dish with extrastellar depth and gastronomic nuance. Ha! And if you believe those hyperbolic words, I have a bridge to sell you. But, in all seriousness, it’s one of my favourite meals, rich though it may be.
As you know, if you’re a hardcore carnivore like me, lamb is a very fatty meat. As well, it has a distinctive flavour that you either love or hate. There don’t seem to be many fence-sitters when it comes to lamb. Harvey and I position ourselves squarely in the love-it camp. While we don’t eat it often, we consider lamb fancy food, and usually only have it on special occasions. Like Tuesdays. It plays well with rice, couscous, noodles or potatoes, which makes it an equal opportunity meat. And that’s something I admire in my food.
MOROCCAN LAMB SHANKS
6 lamb shanks
coarse salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
4 celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne, or to taste
1 1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups beef broth
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Season the lamb with salt and pepper.
- Heat three tablespoons oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrots and onion and cook until very soft, eight to 10 minutes.
- Add the thyme, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne, brown sugar and garlic and cook for three minutes.
- Add the wine, then raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and add the beef broth. Leave on medium heat while you brown the lamb shanks.
- Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil into a sauté pan. Over medium-high heat, brown the lamb shanks well on all sides.
- Transfer the lamb shanks to the roasting pan (or Dutch oven) and pour the braising liquid on top. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and cook for one hour. Remove the lid/foil and cook two-and-a-half to three hours more, turning the shanks over every half hour until the meat is very soft.
- Remove the shanks from the braising liquid and strain the liquid. Skim any fat that rises to the surface, then use the liquid as a sauce.
- Serve over rice, couscous or noodles, or with potatoes.
I can say with a fair degree of certainty that this is one of the tastiest lamb dishes I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. It’s not exactly summer food, but it’s perfect for fall or winter. If you served it for Rosh Hashanah dinner, you would undoubtedly impress the heck out of your guests. Or whomever you plan to eat with. It’s a labour-intensive recipe, no question about that. But you’ll thank me once the smell comes wafting out of your kitchen and you begin to food swoon.
Like I said, it’s a rich meal, so count on one shank per person. If you’re Israeli, you’ll probably opt to lay it gently on a mountain of rice or couscous, but maybe you’ll go rogue and settle it lovingly on a bed of noodles. We Ashkenazim like our meat and potatoes (a little too much, I’m afraid), so I’ll probably make a side of roasted baby new potatoes. If you go the traditional Ashkenazi route and start with gefilte fish and matzah ball soup, I guarantee you’ll be stuffed to the gills by the time you get halfway through the lamb. But will you stop? I think not. It’s kind of like a marathon … you don’t get halfway through only to say, “I think I’ve had enough.” Oh no, you’ll throw yourself into this Moroccan lamb like it’s a cold lake on a hot day.
As for Rosh Hashanah dessert, if you think anyone will have even a millimetre of space left in their stomach for a little something sweet, think again. I’d say there might even be a vomitorium involved, but we’re not Roman, so … no. Maybe put out some fruit for those who are really feeling gluttonous and want to ring in the New Year with a Gaviscon chaser. It’ll only be a token gesture (the fruit, not the Gaviscon), but you can always have it the next day for breakfast. Mind you, I’m usually so stuffed the following day that I can barely face food until maybe 9 a.m. Decide for yourself. Those little fruit jellies are always a nice touch, and barely take up any room.
Before you start feeling full just reading this, remember that you don’t have to eat every course that’s served during Rosh Hashanah dinner. You’re allowed to beg off the first three and save yourself for the main event. No one will be offended. In fact, probably no one will even notice. Whatever you end up doing for the High Holidays, be healthy, be safe and here’s to a sweet new year full of positive and inspiring adventures. Shana tova u’metuka.
Shelley Civkin aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.