Slow braises are quite possibly the best form of comfort food during the cold days of winter. To braise meat, the cut is seared on all sides for colour and flavour and then cooked in liquid at a relatively low temperature for several hours. The result is usually a melt in your mouth, falling off the bone texture. In this example, I used lamb shanks. The shank of the lamb is essentially the shin, which contains quite a bit of connective tissue. Connective tissue is tough, chewy and not very palatable. Braising allows it to slowly melt away and the meat is left scrumptious. Braising is perfect for tough cuts like shanks, shortribs and brisket. These cuts tend to be cheapest and most delicious (when prepared right).
In this post I'll show you how I made braised lamb shanks with Moroccan spices over a bed of fluffy couscous mixed with raisins, almond slices and herbs. I used the gravy to pour over the meat and also a cool, fresh yogurt sauce with fresh mint. The couscous was an ode to the Moroccan flavours of the lamb, but braised meats are also great with rice, crusty bread, or anything that can sop up the juices or sauce. Authentic Moroccan couscous requires a specific steaming unit and hours to make. In North America, a simpler store bought version is widely used, which just requires rehydrating in boiling water for a few minutes. I used the quick version, which works great, but follow the instructions on the package of your couscous. The instructions in this recipe pertain to the specific brand that I used. Interesting fact, many people think of couscous as a grain but it is in reality a form of eggless pasta and has been consumed by mankind for many centuries.
For the lamb shanks you will need:
4 lamb shanks
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 ribs of celery, chopped
3 crushed garlic cloves
1 red chili, chopped
1/2 cup of raisins
6-8 olives, pitted
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups of organic chicken stock
2 cups of dry red wine
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground fennel
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches)
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp cooking oil
For the couscous you will need:
2 2/3 cups of couscous
2 cups of boiling water
2 tbsp olive oil
2/3 cup of raisins
2/3 cup of sliced almonds
A small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
A small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
A small pinch of salt
For the yogurt sauce you will need:
4 tbsp organic, 0% fat plain yogurt
A small bunch of fresh mint, chopped
A small pinch of salt
1 tsp of olive oil
Preheat your oven to 300 Fahrenheit/150 Celsius.
If you can, try to grind all of your own spices with a mortar and pestle. It makes all the difference. I didn't have any coriander seeds on hand so I used a purchased variety but the cumin seeds and fennel seeds I ground myself.
|Grinding Cumin Seeds|
Be sure to brown all sides for a couple of minutes. Don't forget the severed ends! They need to be browned too.
Once the onions have turned translucent, you can then add the celery and carrot. Continue to sautée for another 2 or 3 minutes.
Next add in the chili and garlic and sautée for an additional two minutes. Cue the tomato paste. You could throw it right in and stir everything around. What I like to do, is make a little well in the center of the pan and add the paste to the center and stir it for about a minute before integrating it with the rest of the mirepoix. Tomato paste from the store tends to be a little too acidic. This will allow the acidity to cook away and the rich tomato sweetness to come out.
Let that cook for another 2-3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. The smells erupting from the dutch oven at this point are outrageous! Then, you can add in the ginger, raisins, and olives. Cook that for about a minute or two.
Now you can reintroduce your seared lamb shanks to the story. Nestle them on top of the veg and make them fit as best as you can. It doesn't have to look perfect, as long as there's room so you can fit the lid on the pot then you're golden.
Now comes the liquid, add your red wine and organic chicken stock. In a braise, you want the liquid to just come up to the top of everything in the pot. 4 cups of liquid was not enough to achieve this. Use water to finish the job. If you want to use more stock or wine, that's up to you. Turn up the heat and let the liquid come to a low boil.