Aromatic Lamb-Shank Stew

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Don’t let the word “stew” put you off. Yes, I know it’s crippled with connotations of school-dinner gristle and gluey-gravied mess, but the lamb shanks here are anything but that. Of course, you could use shoulder, cut into greed-satisfying chunks, and it still wouldn’t be compromise, but the bone in the shank gives such rounded richness of flavor and there’s something so unpretentiously satisfying about the great meaty hunkiness of it on the plate. Since supermarkets now routinely stock (or will order in) lamb shanks, and since they’re both meaty and cheap, it makes sense to seek them out for this. The spicing, the muddy softening of the lentils within, owe something to Moroccan cooking, but only obliquely. I’ve used the seasonings—Marsala wine, soy—I have regularly to hand (unlike restaurant chefs, I don’t restock my nonexistent pantry for each new recipe) to bring to this stew the mellow depth I want to find. As with all stews, this is even better made in advance and reheated; for me, this only makes things easier. The couscous, however, needs to be made last minute. If you don’t own a couscoussier (and there’s no reason why you should), just steam these grains above boiling water in an ordinary vegetable steamer. Of course it’s possible to cook couscous just by steeping it in boiling water (and check package instructions for directions) but I can’t honestly tell you it will make the grains as fluffily light. Otherwise, with this aromatic, sauce-rich stew, just serve plain rice—or a bowlful of buttery mash, of half potatoes, half parsnips, well seasoned and spiced with mace.


Cooking Methodstewing


Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Equipmentfood processor



Taste and Texturehot & spicy, meaty, rich


  • 6 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • 8 lamb shanks
  • 2 onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • Sprinkling of salt
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 dried red chilli pepper, crumbled, or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 6 tablespoons red lentils
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pistachios, chopped blanched almonds or a mixture of both


  1. Put 3 tablespoons of the oil into a very large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan and warm over medium heat. Brown the lamb shanks, in batches, in the pan and then remove to a roasting pan or whatever else you’ve got at hand to sit them in.

  2. Peel the onions and garlic and process in a food processor or chop them finely by hand. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and fry the onion-garlic mush until soft, sprinkling salt over to stop it sticking.

  3. Stir in the turmeric, ground ginger, chilli, cinnamon and nutmeg, and season with some freshly ground pepper. Stir again, adding the honey, soy sauce and Marsala. Put the shanks back in the pan, add cold water almost to cover, bring to the boil then put a lid on the pan, lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1–1½ hours or until the meat is tender.

  4. Add the red lentils and cook for about 20 minutes longer without the lid, until the lentils have softened into the sauce and the juices have reduced and thickened slightly. Check for seasoning.

  5. Toast the nuts by heating them for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, and sprinkle onto the lamb as you serve it.


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