PERSIAN-SPICED LAMB SHANKS BRAISED IN ROSE WATER AND SAFFRON (for four)
4 meaty lamb shanks (ask for hind shanks), about 4-1/2 to 5 pounds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground, dried rosebuds (optional)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron
juice of 2 limes, about 4 tablespoons
3 teaspoons rosewater, available from Middle Eastern grocery stores
1 large onion, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon dried lime, or the zest of 1 fresh lime
zest of 1 orange, plus 1 tablespoon more for garnish
a few thyme sprigs
2 fresh bay leaves
4 cups hot chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint or dill, for garnish
Roz bel zafaran for serving
- Trim any excess fat from lamb shanks and season generously with salt. Mix together cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, rosebuds (if using) black pepper and turmeric. Sprinkle evenly over shanks and rub into meat. Let sit at room temperature at least an hour or wrap and refrigerate overnight, then bring to room temperature.
- Place a Dutch oven or deep heavy pot over medium high heat and add oil to a depth of ½ inch. When oil is hot, add 2 lamb shanks and fry until nicely browned on all sides about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside, then brown the remaining 2 shanks.
- Meanwhile, put saffron in a small bowl with lime juice, 2 teaspoons rosewater and ½ cup warm water. Let steep for 10 minutes. Heat oven to 350.*
- Carefully remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from the Dutch oven. Add chopped onion and cook over medium heat until softened and slightly colored, 8 to 10 minutes. Season onion with salt, then add lime zest, orange zest, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Stir in saffron mixture. Lay in the lamb shanks and add the broth. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover the pot.
- Transfer pot to oven and bake for about 1-1/2 hours, covered, until meat is tender when probed and beginning to fall from the bone. Remove lamb shanks to a deep serving dish and keep warm. Strain braising juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing with a wooden spoon to obtain all the liquid (discard thyme, bay leaves and onions). Skim fat, then taste and add salt if necessary. Add 1 more teaspoon rosewater, if desired. Reheat strained juices and pour over lamb shanks. Combine parsley, mint and reserved orange zest and sprinkle over top.
- Use a large spoon to break the tender shank meat into large chunks. Serve in low, wide soup plates, giving each portion a spoonful of the juices. Accompany with steamed Basmati rice, lavash flatbread or a loaf of crusty French bread.
NOTE: Some brands of rosewater are more strongly perfumed than others. Use sparingly at first, then add more to taste.
adapted from David Tanis, printed in the New York Times