The secret to these Spiced Lamb Shanks is ras el hanout, a wonderful and complex blend of spices that hails from North Africa, most likely Morroco. It is believed to have been originally created by spice dealers who combined the best spices they had on offer. Ras el hanout translates to ‘Head of the shop’, as in the best of the best, or cream of the crop. In other words, a Moroccan spice dealer’s reputation sometimes comes down to their ras el hanout.
It’s an earthy blend of warm spices. The main notes, at least the ones I tend to pick up on, are cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, and all spice. But that’s just the beginning. Many ras el hanout blends have upwards of 40 to 50, if not 100+, spices. It all depends on the blend you buy, or the one you make from scratch.
Around 8 or 9 years ago, Catalina and I had the pleasure of visiting Morroco, albeit only as part of a day trip. We were travelling throughout Spain and made our way south towards Gibraltar. While staying in the port city of Algeciras, we decided to book a last-minute tour of northern Morroco. The itinerary included a ferry ride to Ceuta before crossing the border and heading to Tangier. The day consisted of a guided tour through Tangier’s medina, and visits to rug and spice shops. The day ended with a big lunch of chicken tagine with couscous and vegetables. Sadly, the food was nothing to write home about.
The spice shop tour was probably my favourite part of the day. We sampled different blends and learned about various medicinal properties. I grabbed a couple of bags of some turmeric-laced stuff. When I asked the shop owner what he called the blend, he flipped the bag over and showed me a sticker that read, ‘Spice for chickens’. I turned over the other bag, which read ‘Spice for Beefs’.
It wasn’t until years later that I even heard the words ras el hanout. No one mentioned it while we were in Morocco. Not quite sure why. Perhaps they had a hard time selling it to tourists when it was labeled as such? It’s entirely possible that one of the blends I purchased was the shop’s ras el hanout.
This past summer, I happened to find a bottle of ras el hanout while in Romania, of all places. These Spiced Lamb Shanks are the first thing I’ve made with it and I can happily say that they did not disappoint.
The warm, earthy tones in the spices are balanced by the sweetness from the pomegranate juice. The aromatic vegetables also help to infuse the meat and sauce with tons of flavour.
I served everything overtop of some creamy cauliflower purée, which soaked up all of the reduced sauce like a velvety sponge. And for some texture, I topped the dish with some toasted, slivered almonds.
To speed things along, I used a pressure cooker to cook the lamb shanks. Cosori recently sent me their 6qt multicooker to review and I figured this would be a great test. Initial reactions are positive. It was fairly easy to use and delivered a great finished product. Though less popular than the infamous Instant Pot, it’s a good option for anyone that wants to give it a try. I’ll have to keep testing it before making any firm statements.
In the meantime, you can read my Instant Pot review here. Especially if you are considering, or haven’t considered, owning an electric pressure cooker.
If you don’t have an electric pressure cooker, you can definitely make these Spiced Lamb Shanks in a Dutch oven. Personally, I think the dry heat from the oven produces a better finished product because some of the liquid in the pot evaporates and concentrates as the intramuscular fibres of the lamb break down. With a pressure cooker, all of the moisture is kept in the pot. Thus you have to take the time to further reduce the sauce after the lamb has cooked. Not a big deal, considering you reduce the cooking time by more than half and it’s a less involved process.
I’ve included both versions below so that you can pick your poison.
Spiced Lamb Shanks - Whole30, Paleo
- 3 lamb shanks
- 2 med yellow onions – cut into quarters
- 4 large carrots – cut into 2” pieces
- 2 stalks celery – cut into 2” pieces
- 1 bulb fennel – cut into wedges tops discarded and fronds reserved for garnish
- 5-6 cloves garlic – smashed peeled and left whole
- 1 cup 100% pomegranate juice
- 1.5 cups chicken or beef stock
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- Ras el Hanout spice mix
- Cayenne pepper optional
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- Toasted slivered almonds – for garnish
- Rinse lamb shanks and pat dry with paper towel. Season all sides with Ras el Hanout, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
- Switch pressure cooker to sauté mode. When the pot is hot, add 1 tbsp avocado oil and brown all sides of the shanks. Work in batches so as to not overcrowd the pot. Transfer browned meat to a tray and set aside.
- Add pomegranate juice and use a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Nestle lamb shanks in the bottom of the pot, cover with onions, celery, carrots, fennel and garlic. Pour in stock and bring liquid to a simmer.
- Switch setting to manual, high pressure and set the cooking timer for 75min. Close the lid and set valve to the sealing position.
- Once cooking timer has transpired, release pressure manually. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer lamb shanks and vegetables to a tray. Personally, I discard all vegetables except the carrots at this point. But you’re the boss, applesauce.
- Switch setting to sauté and cook the sauce at a steady simmer until reduced by half (approx. 12-15min), stirring occasionally. *Tip: resist the urge to thicken the sauce with arrowroot starch. Instead allow the sauce to slowly cook down so as to naturally thicken and intensify the flavours.
- Serve lamb shank and carrots over cauliflower purée. Spoon reduced sauce overtop and garnish with toasted almonds and reserved fennel fronds.