I love summer. I miss summer. Then again, Autumn, especially a particularly beautiful one like this year’s, has its perks~! Great seasonal ingredients calling for extended hikes/foraging trips and, once you get home from enjoying the blast of color that is the great outdoors these days, first whiffs of wintery comfort food and comfy clothes, inviting you to wrap yourself in a blanket with a good book in one and a glass of red in the other hand and, most importantly… quinces!
Sadly, quince season is extremely short, only about 4-5 weeks per year at best, but that’s all the more reason to make it count, right? I started this year’s quince season on one of those chilly but stunningly beautiful Sundays, when a successful long forest hike qualified hubby and me for some serious grub. Luckily, this particular forest-crawl wasn’t one of the impromptu kind, so I had the chance to plan ahead a little – just enough to pick something that would all but cook itself once we got home and do a little prep work the evening before the gig. A quick look at my fridge’s contents – currently more of a quince-bunker than a “fridge” per se… – with an outdoorsy day in mind made the decision for this delicious hug-in-a-bowl an easy one~
The Lamb Shanks & Quince Stew
2 large Lamb Shanks or 4 smaller ones
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp of Clarified Butter/Ghee
1 large White Onion, roughly chopped
2 Carrots, peeled, topped, tailed and rouchly chopped
2 fresh Quinces, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
2 Red Chillies – pick the ones you like heat and taste-wise, this dish doesn’t need to be viciously hot… which doesn’t keep me from using Habaneros~
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh Bay Leaf, crushed but left in one piece
2 Cinnamon Sticks
350ml White or Tawny Port
400ml Lamb Stock – plus some extra just in case your sauce needs some adjustments
1 heaped Tsp Pimenton Dulce
1 Tsp dried Rosemary
1 Tsp ground Cumin
1 Tsp Coriander Seeds
½ Tsp ground Cinnamon
4 dried Figs, roughly chopped
4 fresh Figs, quartered
½ Bunch of fresh Mint, leaves picked and thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Opt: Couscous and my Spiced Quince Preserves to serve
Opt: A light and zingy Salad with Pomegranate Seeds to serve
Opt: A combination of the two~
1) Get the show on the road, preferably the evening before, by picking up a small mixing bowl and blending all of the ground spices, coriander seeds, garlic, a good crack of pepper and the oil into a thick paste.
2) Move the shanks into an airtight container, rub them with the marinade until they’re evenly covered, place them in the container, seal the lid and pop it into the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight.
3) Place a large casserole or stewpot – large enough for the shanks to fit in in one layer – on high heat.
4) Brush the excess marinade off of the shanks into a small bowl. Set the bowl aside for the time being, you’re going to need these bits again in about 15 mins.
5) Once the casserole is piping hot, add the butter and carefully place the shanks inside once the butter has dissolved. Sear the shanks, while giving them a ¼–turn every 45-60 sec or so, until they’re evenly browned all around.
6) Grab a pair of kitchen tongs, carefully pick up the shanks and park them in a deep dish or bowl for the moment.
7) Add the veggies and quinces to the pot and sauté them for 2-3 mins, until the carrots start to take on some color as well, then deglaze the pot with the wine.
8) Stir in the stock along with a generous pinch of salt and whirl up all of the yummies sticking to the bottom of the pot.
9) Add the marinade you brushed off of the meat earlier as well as every little bit of it that may still be sticking in the corners of the container you’ve used to marinate the shanks.
10) Gently lay the shanks onto the bed of veggies and bring the liquids up to a rapid boil.
11) Turn the heat down to medium-low as soon as the stock reaches that point. Once the bubbly action in your casserole has settled down to a gentle simmer, cover the pot with a lid – leave an opening to one side in order to keep the moisture from gathering – and leave the stew to simmer away for 2 hours.
12) Turn the shanks over from time to time if you’re going with the stovetop variant to make extra sure nothing is secretly sticking to the pot, threatening to burn up. Alternatively, pop the uncovered pot into the oven for 3 hours at 160°C.
13) Have a peek at the meat once the 2 hrs are over. The upper tip of the bone should be exposed by now and the marrow should be doing a fine job of oozing out into your sauce.
14) The meat itself should start to slide down the bone at a gentle tug once it’s about ready to be served, almost as if it would simply let go of the bone altogether if you would set your mind on tugging with a bit more conviction. Depending on the size of the shanks in question, you’ll hit that stage between 2 and 2 ½ hours.
15) Depending on how the meat is doing, and how much moisture is left in your pot at this point, guesstimate the time left for everything to be perfect, adjust the levels of the liquids in your pot with more stock if necessary and fold in the dried figs.
Here’s what you should be looking for: The sauce should be on the thick side of things, most of the veggies basically melted, obligingly sticking to the shanks and reluctant to slide off – not quite a purée but not exactly a runny sauce either. If it’s threatening to stick and burn in the pot, add more stock. If it’s more like a soup, keep the lid off for a while until you’re satisfied with it – should the meat be done by then, remove it from the pot, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce down more quickly.
16) To serve, turn the shanks in the sauce to pick up as much of it as possible and set them into deep dishes, into a bed of couscous and spiced quince preserve or next to a small pile of salad.
17) Drizzle the servings with more sauce, scatter them with the mint leaves and garnish them with the fresh figs.