It's tough to mess up a braise made with lamb shanks even if you go for the bare minimum in seasoning and spices. Braising is a cooking method best leant to usually tough cuts of meat (and preferably with the bone attached for more flavour) such as shank, shoulder, tail, ribs, neck or any cut in an animal composed of a lot of connective tissue. All collagen in the connective tissue breaks down during cooking and creates gelatin, which also naturally thickens the braising liquid and gives it body. This same braising liquid benefits greatly from extracting natural and deep flavour from marrow inside the bones. This braised lamb shank employs sweet, sticky and tangy pomegranate syrup and earthy spices such as cumin and cinnamon to bring a flavour profile bridging between Morocco and Iran. Once it's all said and done, you have a deeply flavoured sauce and fork-tender fall off the bone meat. It's a slow and low approach to cook time but worth every minute in the end.
Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shanks 8 Steps
In a pan toast the coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds until fragrant, approximately 5-6 minutes on medium heat. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind until powdery, set aside with the remainder of the spices.
Heat a large Dutch oven or braising pot on medium-high heat. Season the lamb shanks with the kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add the vegetable oil and olive oil to the pre-heated pot, then working in batches so as to not overcrowd begin searing the lamb shanks until deeply browned on all sides, approximately 3-4 minutes per side. Once all of the lamb shanks have been browned, remove from the pot and set aside. Drain off any excess fat from the pot, there should only be just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pot.
Turn the heat down to medium and add in the onions, celery, carrots, smashed garlic cloves and tomato paste. Stir, cover with a lid and allow to cook until the vegetables have softened and browned, approximately 7-10 minutes.
Add in the spice mix (bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, ground coriander, ground fennel, ground cumin, chili flakes, thyme sprigs) and cook for 2 minutes stirring regularly.
Add in the beef stock, pomegranate syrup, and browned lamb shanks. Bring to a rolling simmer, cover with a lid and cook the lamb shanks for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, flipping the lamb shanks half way through. Skim any excess fat that rises to the top while braising.
After 1 1/2 - 2 hours the meat should be able to pull away from the bone easily but not falling apart. Carefully remove the lamb shanks from the pot and set aside. Pass the entire braising liquid mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another large pot. Discard all strained off braising ingredients at this point. The sauce should be smooth and deep brown in color.
In a small bowl combine the cornstarch and water and mix until even (this is known as a “slurry”). Bring the strained braising sauce to a boil and add in the cornstarch slurry mixture half at a time until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon without running off, it should be a loose gravy consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add the lamb shanks back into the finished sauce and heat through.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the pomegranate seeds, mint leaves, parsley leaves and dill, toss gently to combine. To serve the lamb shanks, serve straight from the braising pot or transfer to platter and top with the pomegranate-herb salad.