oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and i

Lamb shanks are lots of fun – they simmer away and make your house smell wonderful; the bone is a ready-made grippable handle, depending on how conservative your company is; they’re generally cheaper than other bits of lamb; they’re full of sweet, youthful meaty flavour; and, you can point at your plate and suggestively say “hey, nice shanks“.

Overall though, lamb is not one of those things that fills me with good feelings of “I can afford this regularly” (likewise with All Dairy Products, as I’ve complained about at length recently.) In fact, the last time I had lamb shanks was May 2009 – back when we were in our old flat! – so it was with happiness that I saw them fall into the range of X-per-kilo that I’m comfortable with. They are not so much fun to photograph though. To lull you into a false sense of capable blogging security: their accompaniment, figs!
Actually figs, wrinkled and greying as they are, also aren’t that attractive. Foiled again.
To have lamb shanks slowly becoming tender in a fig-studded broth is about the cheeriest thing you can do on a freezing and rainy day like today. Shank Sunday! As I’ve called it. However if you’ve got the time, this recipe of Nigella Lawson’s is perfect on any cold day of the week. Putting lamb, figs, honey and pumpkin together as she does might sound troublingly sweet. But what I found was that the flavours of the sugary things caramelised together which, with the lamb’s sticky meatiness, made for an outrageously good combination, with partially jam-ified figs, lamb-infused kumara sauce and a little cinnamon to warm things up further. Let’s not be naive though. This is a rich dish. I could hardly finish a whole shank.

Nigella makes this recipe as part of her Rosh Hashana spread in her book Feast, with part of its significance being that sweet foods are consumed at Rosh Hashana in the hope that the year ahead will also be full of such sweetness. However she also offers it as a general dinner recipe – and really, any day that you can is good to be proactively adding some sweetness and hope to your life. Be it literal, symbolic, or in the case of these shanks, both.

Lamb Shanks with Figs and Honey

Adapted – scaled down that is – from Nigella Lawson’s beautiful book Feast. Her recipe serves 10, if you have that many to feed then it’s more like 10 shanks, 1kg onions, 500g figs, 80mls honey and a whole bottle of wine.

3 lamb shanks
Olive oil
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
Either about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, or leaves from one decent stalk of thyme
1 can pumpkin puree/1 orange kumara
9 dried figs
1 cinnamon stick (or, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
125mls red wine
1 heaped tablespoon (only way it can be done really) of honey
250mls/1 cup water

Finely chop your onions and crush/chop your garlic and – if you don’t live within reach of pumpkin puree – now’s a good time to peel and roughly, but finely, dice your kumara.

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan and brown the shanks, in batches if you need to. Set aside, covered with tinfoil if you like.

Add the onions, garlic and herbs to the pan, sprinkling over a little salt, and allow to soften without browning.

Now add everything else (except the waiting shanks) to the pan, and gently bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to as low as possible, add the shanks and cook for an hour and a half – at least – partially covered.

– Figs are more expensive than I remember. You could always use dates, which I find stay reasonably priced, or even prunes or dried apricots – whatever works for you.
– As I’ve said, kumara is a decent substitute for canned pumpkin. If no kumara is to hand, butternut pumpkin is good too – it breaks down quickly. And if you’re really having trouble accessing them, Nigella recommends red lentils instead.
– I didn’t have red wine, so – sorry Nigella – just used some white. As I’ve said already, it still tasted amazing.
You may want to make this a day ahead, allow it to cool and then skim off any inevitable fat before reheating. Serve with whatever you like really – rice, mashed potato, more mashed kumara, a salad made of canned cannelini beans or chickpeas or the like, couscous, bulghur wheat – or just bread to scoop up the saucy kumara. Which is what we did.
As they sing and acknowledge in Chess, “these are very dangerous and difficult times“. But sheesh, this week has been quite the cluster of sadness and horror, with famine in the Horn of Africa, killings in Oslo, and Amy Winehouse’s death at age 27. Bad news is bad news, whatever the scale. It’s not a competition, and – as I saw written extremely well on Twitter today – compassion isn’t a finite resource. Something that’s good to keep in mind…as well as being thankful for things while you’ve got ’em to be thankful for.

Title via: Oklahoma, the song, from Oklahoma the musical. Which – while I strictly have to actually like the songs I quote here – I am not a huge fan of. I find the characters annoying (as admittedly many find those in RENT) and the whole dream-ballet segment feels awkward and overlong even within the context of when dream-ballets were more the norm. But the music, the music is amazing. One of my favourite renditions of this title song is by Tony Award winner Sutton Foster (who you may also know as Coco from Flight of the Conchords.) Also while you’re at it, it’s always a good time to watch her be triple-threateningly amazing in Drowsy Chaperone.

Music lately:

We went to the Bookfair yesterday and picked up so many fun second-hand books, but there were also heaps of really great records there. One such jewel was Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, whose songs like El Paso are as comfort food to the ears.
I was never an avid fan of the now-late Amy Winehouse, but definitely appreciated her talent, and certain songs stood out for me – like Tears Dry On Their Own. Just do yourself a favour and maybe avoid reading the youtube comments. It’s never worth it.

Next time: Tomorrow night book group is at my place and I’ve got a few discussion snacks on the make, one or more of which will likely end up here soon.

10 thoughts on “oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and i

  1. Foodycat says:

    “Compassion isn't a finite resource” – that's really well put.

    This dish looks delicious, but there is no way I can do fruit with meat at home. I will just enjoy yours at a distance.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Shank Sunday! Awesome. Your photos of the lamb are so… dramatic (only word I could think of right now, but trust me, dramatic in a good way), perfect to look at on a cold winter night. Thanks for the reminder that lamb shanks are accessible and delicious, Shank Sunday will for sure be coming my way soon πŸ˜‰


  3. Couscous & Consciousness says:

    A fantastic dish to celebrate the many things we often forget to be grateful for. I can't wait to try this dish. May partner gets back from three months in Munich in 10 days time and I think this might be one of the first things I make for him – he does love a good lamb shank xo


  4. Hannah says:

    Yes, Oklahoma has never totally floated my boat[ed]… plus Jed's song terrified me when I was younger!

    Just so you know, this recipe of yours would surely kick my mother's lamb and prune casserole out of the water.


  5. Sue @ FiveCourseGarden says:

    Funny how the “cheap” cuts of meat are becoming our treats. If you can get a butcher to cut lamb shanks into two or three sections, the bone marrow gets out and into the sauce, making it lovely and thick. Figs, honey and lamb sounds like a match made in Morocco… Harissa would be a worthy bridesmaid.


  6. Anonymous says:

    I love lamb shanks during the winter months too. I don't think I've tackled it this winter yet though. I've never cooked with figs or prunes but I have a jar of cherries leftover from a delicious duck experiment. Do you think lamb and cherry could be friends?


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