My mother could never serve lamb chops for dinner when my dad was home – he spent two years in New Zealand during WWII eating more lamb than anyone should have to in a lifetime. But we loved those nights when it was just mum, my brother Stevie and I enjoying broiled lamb chops for dinner. Maybe it’s something in the Middle Eastern roots of our Jewishness, but I gravitate to lamb moreso than to beef, and savor it in all its incarnations – chops, roast legs, ground burgers, and most especially, braised shanks. These are best made with 12-16 ounce New Zealand, Australian, or Icelandic lamb shanks, the latter available only seasonally in October from Whole Foods. The American versions are (a) too large and (b) not lamby enough, tasting more like beef if you were blindfolded in a taste test.
This is a favorite company-for-dinner dish, as it can be made early in the day – or even the day before – and reheated before serving, leaving you free to mingle with your guests. Serve with garlic mashed red-skinned potatoes, polenta, risotto, or rice pilaf – anything to help sop up the delicious sauce.
1 small onion grated or finely minced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
4 Australian or New Zealand lamb shanks, 12-16 ounces each
2 cups thinly sliced sweet onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup tawny Port or other sweet wine, such as Madeira or Marsala (even Manischevitz in a pinch)
2 cups beef broth
peel of 1 lemon
3 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 cup bite-size pitted prunes
3/4 cup small mission figlets
1/2 cup dried apricots
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp honey
Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl and coat meat with this mixture; can be marinated several hours or overnight, or proceed immediately with cooking. Preheat oven to 350. Heat additional 2 tbsp olive oil in large Dutch oven or roasting pan over medium heat and brown the lamb shanks on all sides, two at a time (takes about 8 minutes per batch), and then remove to platter. Add onions and carrots to pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until onions are nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits, then add beef broth and lemon peel. Bring to simmer, put lamb shanks back in the pot in one layer, spooning the sauce & vegetables over them. Cover tightly and bake for 90 minutes, opening the oven a couple of times to turn the lamb and admire your progress. Add chopped ginger, dried fruits, lemon juice and honey and bake another 30 minutes.
Remove meat and fruits to deep serving dish. Reduce sauce over high heat at least 5 minutes or until it turns a rich glossy brown. Pour sauce over lamb and serve, or cool and refrigerate overnight to be reheated next day.