Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Lamb Shank Tajine
Lamb tajines are some of Morocco’s favorite meat dishes.
Lamb shanks are considered a tough cut of meat; so they are perfect for the low temperature, long and moist cooking in a tajine. Shanks differ in size, therefore use an appropriately sized implement (medium or large tajine) and fit the 4 shanks at the bottom in a single layer.
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp Ras el Hanout spice (see further down for recipe)
4 lamb shanks
1 tbsp butter
½ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup untoasted sesame seeds
2 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion quartered
3 large garlic cloves, crushed and slivered
3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley (I personally use fresh coriander instead)
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes with juice
1 cup dry prunes
½ cup pitted dates
¼ cup honey
In a bowl, combine flour and spice mix. Dredge shanks in flour blend to coat all sides; then set aside.
At the bottom of a tajine melt butter over medium heat. Add almonds and toast for 1 minute, then add sesame seeds and keep cooking for 30 seconds or until the almonds and sesame start turning golden brown. Remove from heat into a bowl and set aside.
Add olive oil to the tajine and heat over medium heat; Add onion and cook for 5 minutes; add garlic, parsley and rosemary and cook stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Add floured shanks, making sure that the meat is in direct contact with the tajine and cook for 3 minutes or until the meat is well browned on one side.
Turn shanks over and cook for 2 more minutes; add tomatoes with juice, prunes and dates. Cover with tajine lid, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 ½ hour (turn shanks once during that phase) until lamb is tender. Lamb should be separating from the bone; if not quite tender replace cover and continue cooking another 30 minutes until the meat is very tender. Drizzle honey over shanks and sprinkle toasted almonds and sesame seeds. The usual side dish for the shanks is couscous.
Ras el Hanout spice blend.
In Morocco, every spice shop in the medina makes its own particular version of Ras el Hanout – which literary translates to “top of the shop” and is supposed to be the very best that the merchant has to offer. Each composition is supposedly a well guarded secret and each seller combines between 15 to 100 different spices and herbs, then toasts and grinds the mixture to a fine powder.
The following Ras el Hanout recipe is a classic mixture from a spice merchant in the Marrakech medina.
1 tbsp allspice berries
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp dry oregano or thyme leaves
1 2.5 inch cinnamon stick, crushed
2 tsp cardamom seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp dehydrated garlic flakes
1 star anise
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp ground turmeric
At the bottom of a medium or small tajine combine ingredients -- except sea salt, turmeric and ginger -- and toast over medium to low heat stirring constantly until the spices start coloring lightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from direct heat; do not let the spices burn.
In a small electric spice grinder add the toasted ingredients plus the salt, turmeric and ginger and finely grind to a powder. Remove to a dark, tight closed glass jar; you can safely store the blend for 3 to 5 months in a refrigerator.
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