What Are Moroccan Lamb Shanks?

H. Bliss

Moroccan lamb shanks are a sweet and spicy dish of braised meat in a tomato-based sauce. This dish is flavored with chili paste, garlic, and cinnamon as well as herbs like cumin, coriander, and nutmeg. The meat in the stew is a lamb shank, or the lower leg of a young sheep. As the meat stews in the braising liquid, it softens and begins to take on a delicate texture that can be cut with a fork. The braising process takes several hours before the meat is tender and ready to be served.

The meat in Moroccan lamb shanks come from the lower leg of a young sheep.
The meat in Moroccan lamb shanks come from the lower leg of a young sheep.

To make Moroccan lamb shanks, the meat cuts are briefly browned in oil over a moderately high heat before they are braised. The aim in browning the lamb shanks is to quickly brown the outside of the lamb shank meat without fully cooking the cut. Carrots, onions, and garlic cloves are caramelized in an oiled pan, then seasoned with the coriander and cinnamon as well as the cumin, nutmeg, and allspice.

Lamb shanks are traditionally served after slow roasting.
Lamb shanks are traditionally served after slow roasting.

When the whole mixture is browned but not burned, a cup of red wine deglazes the pan, unsticking the fond and boiling the seasoned mixture into a thick, syrupy gravy. The lamb shanks cook at a low temperature in a mixture made of the flavorful caramelized sauce, plus chicken stock and tomato paste. After a while on the low heat, the meat begins to break down and soften.

Since the meat used to make Moroccan lamb shanks is widely considered to be one of the toughest, braising is a common cooking method used to add flavor and tenderize the lamb shanks. Braising meat means cooking it in a small amount of liquid, usually broth at a fairly low temperature. When the meat in Moroccan lamb shanks is braised, it is cooked at a heat that keeps the liquid at a barely-moving simmer.

This method of cooking can take a considerable amount of time, since it is the long exposure to low heat that breaks down the toothsome meat of the lamb shank. Monitoring the temperature closely is an important part of making tender Moroccan lamb shanks. Raising the heat to a rapid boil for even a short period of time can cause the meat to seize up and become tough.

A true Moroccan lamb shank is made with sheep of a specific age. To qualify as lamb meat, the sheep must be less than a year old. The meat of older young sheep is called hogget, and meat from a full-grown sheep is mutton.

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