Spiced lamb shanks with quince
There comes a time every autumn when I start to get a little tired of cooking quince desserts. There is no doubt that at the beginning of the season there is great excitement when the first tray of ruby red fruit emerges from its long, slow roast overnight, its beautiful scent hanging in the kitchen for all to marvel at.
But after a steady parade of quince and pear crumble, quince tarte Tatin, quince turnovers, steamed quince puddings and quince tarts, the novelty starts to wear off. And like all deeply seasonal fruits, you start to look elsewhere for inspiration on how to use them.
Really, though, there is no need to look any further than the historical genus of the fruit. Anyone from the Afghans, to the Turks, to the Greeks will claim the quince as their own. The fruit features heavily in many Persian and Mediterranean cuisines. Turned into paste, into spoon sweets and added to tagines, it romps across the continent in many guises, proving to be an incredibly versatile fruit.
I came across this recipe some years ago and it has become my favourite to move on to once I’m over the “sweet” quince thing. It features Persian overtones, Moroccan influences and rich flavours that are perfect as the nights get colder. The quince melds into the sum of the parts rather than being the hero of the dish, but is unmistakably there in the flavour profile, adding an austere and redolent note to the rich meat of a lamb shank.
Spiced lamb shanks with quince
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 4 lamb shanks
– large knob of butter
– 2 large onions, halved then cut into wedges
– 4 garlic cloves, crushed
– 4 strips zest from 1 lemon, plus the juice
– 2 tsp ground cinnamon
– 2 tsp ground coriander
– 1 tsp ground ginger
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– good pinch of saffron strands
– 1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
– 1 tbsp clear honey
– 400ml good lamb or beef stock
– 2 quinces, peeled, quartered and cored
Preheat oven to 230ºC.
Season the shanks, place in a baking dish in the oil and brown in the oven (turning them once) for 10 minutes, or until dark golden all over.
Meanwhile, in a casserole dish or large pan, melt the butter on the stove. Soften the onions for 10 minutes on a medium heat until they’re turning golden, then add the garlic. Remove the shanks from the oven and turn the oven down to 160ºC.
Add the strips of lemon zest and spices to the onion pan. Cook for one minute, then stir in the tomato puree, honey, stock and half the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and then pour over the shanks in the baking tray. Arrange the quince quarters in and around the meat. Cover with a lid or a layer of aluminium foil and braise in the oven for two hours.
Remove the lid or foil, return to the oven and cook for 30 minutes more. Spoon away any excess fat. The sauce will be fairly thin, so if you prefer a thicker stew, remove the lamb and quinces to a serving plate, then boil the cooking juices until thickened. Season, add the remaining lemon juice and serve with the lamb. This is beautiful with some fluffy couscous or a rice pilaf and crisp green salad.
Since you are going to the trouble of a long braise, you may want to extend it to another meal. This is also an excellent base for a fabulous soup. Times all the ingredients by half again and cook as per the recipe. Strip the meat from the extra two shanks and reserve some of the cooking juices. Dilute with stock until it resembles a thick soup consistency, add a tin of cooked chickpeas and some roasted pumpkin pieces. Adjust the seasoning and serve with grilled flatbread and a dollop of yoghurt.
2014 The Bridge shiraz, Heathcote ($45) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 19, 2018 as "Quince consort". Subscribe here.