Lamb Shanks with Figs and Honey
There is something pleasingly biblical-sounding about the “with figs and honey.” And it certainly makes the sweet, aromatic stew appropriate here. Though in either case, there is room for dispute (naturally). Since there is no mention of bee-keeping in the Bible, it is thought that the honey – as in land of milk and honey – was in fact a syrup made by boiling down dates. This is still used by Sephardi Jews, and indeed if you can get some from a Middle-Eastern store, there is no reason why you couldn’t use it here for the honey, replacing, likewise, the dried figs with dried dates.
You do need a huge pot to braise the shanks (but at least it’s getting easier and easier to buy the shanks in the first place). I always love clattering about with army-catering style pans, so this gives me pleasure rather than pause. And, although there is a certain fiddliness involved in the browning of the lamb shanks, this is easy for feeding large amounts of people because you do need to cook it the day before. Thus you’re left with nothing more than a spot of reheating.
I don’t like floury sauces, so I use canned pumpkin to help thicken the sauce, but you could just as easily throw in a couple of cupped handfuls of split red lentils.
It is entirely inauthentic, but I love this with the haroset from the Venetian Ghetto.
If you are not making this as part of the Rosh Hashanah feast, and therefore are not making either the pomegranate jewel cake or the quinces with pomegranates, then scatter some pomegranate seeds on the stew once it is in its serving dish.
Total Timea day or more
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturefruity, hot & spicy, meaty, sweet
- 10 lamb shanks
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
- 2 lb onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh rosemary to yield about 2 tablespoons needles, or 3-4 stalks thyme
- 1¾ cups/15oz can plain pumpkin purée
- 2 2/3 cups dried figs
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cinnamon sticks, crumbled
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 750ml bottle red wine
- 2 cups water
Heat the oil in a very large pan that will eventually accommodate the entire stew, and brown the lamb shanks in batches. Transfer the browned shanks to a bowl.
Using a food processor (or by hand), chop the peeled onions and garlic, rosemary needles (or thyme leaves) finely. Fry them in the oily pan until the onion is soft but not colored.
Add the pumpkin purée, dried figs, ground allspice, crumbled cinnamon sticks, honey, wine and water. Stir well and bring to the boil. Put the shanks back into the saucepan, turn down the heat and simmer for 1½ hours, partially covered.
It is best to cook up until this point before leaving the stew overnight, preferably near an open window or at least somewhere cold, as once it has cooled, a layer of fat will have formed on the surface of the stew, and you can remove this before reheating. I find the best way to do this is by putting on clean rubber gloves – or better still, those disposable latex ones that make you feel you’re in “CSI” – and then use your hands, but you can also employ paper towels and a skimmer or fish slice.
Reheat the lamb shanks gently, and check seasoning before serving.
You could, if you wanted – and this is easiest if you own a rice cooker – make some golden rice, which is to say, plain rice tinted gold with turmeric. You could also make up a huge vat of polenta, just as suitably sunny and golden, though considerably harder work, unless you go for the instant kind, in which case use chicken stock, even out of a can, in place of the water that the package instructions say.
2004 Nigella Lawson