Winter has officially arrived in NYC and I had to detour into the local zoo Century 21 on my way to Whole Foods to pick up some leather gloves today. Despite ranking up there along with crowded department stores on the things I like least about New York, cold weather is the perfect excuse to leave the stove on all afternoon braising away a bone-on chunk of protein like these gorgeous lamb shanks.
The slow cooking turns the tough lamb shanks into a sublime matrix of tender moist meat and lip coating collagen. Tart cranberries serve to offset the rib-sticking richness of the shanks and the tangy cranberry juice melds with the lamb liquid to form a rich sauce that's loaded with umami and accented with cumin, cloves and garlic.
The lynchpin to this whole dish though is the black cardamom. Unlike green cardamom, the darker sibling has an intensely smokey meat-like flavor with just a hint of camphor, lending these shanks a savouriness that's reminiscent of bacon. While I thought I was black cardamom newbie, it turns out I've been using it under its Chinese name tsao-ko for some time. If you don't have an Indian grocer near by, try looking for it in a Chinese or Vietnamese market.
It's come to my attention that my my food is too complicated for some people. If that sounds like you, this dish is for you, as it literally takes 10 minutes of prep, after which you can go about your day with the only sign of your culinary endeavors being the apartment warming heat emanating from the kitchen... well that and the dreamy aroma that will perfume your entire home and have the neighbor's dogs barking in frothy envy.
I also know some of you guys have been asking to see more in-kitchen shots. Getting the proper lighting setup in the kitchen has been too time consuming for most of my weeknight projects, but I can't use that excuse anymore as this is my first post using shots from my new toy. Because of its better low-light sensitivity I should be able to do more in-kitchen shots despite the dungeon-like lighting by the stove.
- Generously salt and pepper the lamb shanks. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot with a lid on medium high heat until very hot, then add a splash of oil. Sear the shanks until golden brown on all sides. Turn down the heat if the oil starts smoking. When the shanks are browned, transfer them to a plate.
- Add the cumin, cloves and black cardamom and swirl in the oil until you start to hear them pop. Add the garlic, ginger, onions, sugar, and salt and fry until soft and very fragrant. Add the cranberries, stir together, then nestle the lamb shanks into the cranberries and onions. Turn the heat down to low and cover with a tight fitting lid. Let this braise for 2-3 hours or until the meat easily pulls off the bone with a fork.
- Serve with rice.