Lamb is one of those meats that I rarely, if ever, cook at home. But when my oh so very generous younger brother decided to present me with an entire lamb for my most recent birthday (it showed up at my door butchered and neatly separated by part), I was thrilled to test drive a myriad of recipes for a meat usually unique to my kitchen. Rest assured there will be more lamb adventures chronicled here in the coming months, but for my first recipe I was eager to try my hand at a traditional Moroccan tagine. I settled on a recipe crafted by Chez Panisse chef David Tanis (it appeared first in his book “Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys” and also, where I spotted it, the Culture pages of the Wall Street Journal), which places heavy emphasis on a luxuriously slow braise. I used a combination of shank and neck meat, which, on Tanis’s recommendation sat overnight under a veil of salt in the fridge, let it all braise for an additional half hour than what is outlined in the recipe, and added a pinch more saffron, cumin and coriander than what is called for to really up the aromatic appeal. The result was a richly layered stew with fall-off-the-bone-tender lamb, all of it redolent with spices and an appealing sweetness thanks to a combination of slowly-cooked prunes and golden raisins. Hearty, exotic, and utterly delicious. FIORELLA V.
Serves 6; Total Time: 4½ Hours
For the tagine:
6 pounds lamb shanks
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, thickly sliced
Pinch of saffron threads
6 garlic cloves, chopped
One 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1 small cinnamon stick
1 rounded teaspoon coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 scant teaspoons cayenne
1 cup golden raisins
2 cups pitted prunes
4 cups chicken broth or water
1 cup tomato puree
For the garnish:
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup whole blanched almonds
Large pinch of salt
Small pinch of sugar
WHAT TO DO:
1. Season lamb generously with salt and pepper and set aside for 2 hours (or refrigerate over-night). Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions, season with salt and crumble saffron over them. Saute over medium heat until softened and slightly browned. Add garlic, fresh ginger, cinnamon stick, coriander and cumin seeds, powdered ginger and cayenne. Stir together, remove from heat and correct the seasoning. Add raisins and half the prunes.
3. Put the lamb in an enamelware dutch oven or deep sided baking dish and spread the onion mixture over the meat. Stir together broth or water and tomato puree and pour over. Cover the pan with foil and a tight-fitting lid.
4. Bake for about 2 hours, or until meat is meltingly tender.
5. Remove the foil and lid, add the second cup of prunes and submerge them. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Return lamb to the oven, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, to let it brown a bit.
6. Carefully lift meat from sauce and put in a low wide bowl or storage container. Skim any fat from the surface of the sauce. If sauce seems thin, pour it into a low saucepan and reduce over high heat. Check the seasoning and adjust. Pour sauce over meat and let it cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.
7. The next day, remove and discard any congealed fat. Gently reheat the stew, covered, in a low oven.
8. Just before serving, fry the almonds for the garnish. Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and fry the almonds gently, stirring occasionally. When the almonds are golden, blot on paper towels and sprinkle with the salt and sugar.
9. Transfer tagine to a warmed platter and scatter almonds over lamb.