Not everyone likes the taste of lamb. Some people think it tastes too “gamey”. I am not one of these people. I absolutely love the taste of good lamb. Notice I said “good” lamb … quality makes a world of a difference. This year, I found a local farm in the Northern Virginia area which has a grass-based model for raising animals. In other words, the farm animals are “pastured” (able to roam on pasture), and if they’re ruminants like cows and sheep, they eat grass directly from the ground. While this may not sound novel (it isn’t), most people don’t know that they should be eating meat from animals that have been grass-fed for most, or all, of their lives. Why? Well, firstly grass-fed meat tastes better — especially lamb. For those who don’t like the “gamey” taste, grass-finished lamb has less of that taste, which is often present in conventional lamb that has been fed grain, often corn and soy. More importantly, because grass is the natural food for ruminants, it’s healthier for the animals, and in turn, healthier for the humans who eat their meat. How healthier, you may ask? For the sake of a shorter blog post, I will refer you to this article and this article from Mark’s Daily Apple, both pointing out the higher nutritional content in grass-finished meats. And if you’re still hesitant to believe that “we are what we eat ate“, check out this article about a study I came across today, which points out that rats who ate soy-fed salmon developed more systemic inflammation that rats who ate salmon given a natural fish feed. Yeah, that blew my mind too.
If you’re in the U.S., there are several ways to find out about local farmers who practice organic and sustainable farming methods. You can do it the old-fashioned way and ask around, especially at places like farmer’s markets, where people might know more about their local communities. There’s also the internet, which for me has been invaluable as I learn more about food, health and yes, even local resources. A few websites I can recommend for finding local food sources are Eat Wild, Local Harvest, and Real Time Farms. There are also farms that ship their products nationwide, like US Wellness Meats, GrassFed Traditions and specializing in lamb specifically, Lava Lake Lamb. There are probably several other options of which I’m not aware. I haven’t personally tried the online orders yet, because I’ve been satisfied with my local options. Also, buying locally is a lot cheaper, especially if you buy in bulk! If you live in the Middle East, you’ll probably have to rely on word-of-mouth for reliable recommendations for local food. Otherwise, you can opt for the grass-fed imported beef and lamb, often from Ireland and Australia, respectively.
So, back to the recipe. It was my dad’s birthday weekend and I wanted to make something with a gourmet feel, without expending too much energy (I succeeded with the entree, but then spent about 2 hours on the massive grain-free cake I baked, which was phenomenal by the way). The lamb shanks I bought were a decent size — each one was the perfect size for one person. Braising the shanks is super simple. Basically it involves browning in melted ghee on both sides (I added some garlic and rosemary for flavor, but you can skip that if you wish), and then stewing for several hours until really tender. And I like lamb to be super duper tender, so I would test-bite at the end of 3 hours to see if it’s to my liking, and increase cooking time if needed. In this case, I think I left the lamb to stew for maybe 2.5 hours? But of course the exact cooking time will depend on the type of lamb, the type of stove top, the type of pot and amount of water, etc.
Plain braised lamb is delicious, but braised lamb with a sauce or dip to go along with it and accentuate its flavors is even better. I thought of making a garlicky tahini dip, or a minty yogurt sauce, but these weren’t very inspired, and I was feeling a tiny bit adventurous. I decided on experimenting with a chimichurri sauce … you know, the kind they serve at Brazilian steakhouses? I’ll admit that while the name sounds funny andno one really knows its origin, I really like the way it sounds (and tastes)! It’s usually paired with grilled meats, but no one said not to pair it with braised lamb … so I did! This time, in addition to the classic parsley-oregano-garlic mixture, I added a few ingredients that are popular in Middle Eastern cuisine in order to create a more familiar flavor. Fresh mint was the first to come to mind, followed by the cumin and coriander. A light bulb came on, and I decided to spontaneously add a couple of tablespoons of pomegranate molasses to the mix. I’m still in the “honeymoon phase” of my love affair with pomegranate molasses … meaning, I cook with it whenever it makes sense (and sometimes when it really doesn’t, hah). So, far I haven’t been disappointed!
I won’t lie and say that the chimichurri sauce is ‘mild’ in any way. It has a very noticeable kick to it, and the pomegranate molasses provides a nice slight tartness and background sweetness that makes the herbs just “pop” in your mouth! It also tastes quite amazing with the braised lamb shanks. I encourage you to try it, and to give grass-fed lamb a chance if you’re able to find some. I ended up serving it next to some roasted zucchini with fresh oregano, and the combo was quite delicious!
Braised Lamb Shanks with A “Middle Eastern” Chimichurri Sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes (besides thawing)
Cook Time: 10 min braising + 3 hrs boiling
Keywords: braise boil grill entree gluten-free low-carb nut-free soy-free sugar-free lamb mint pomegranate molasses parsley Middle Eastern fall spring winter summer
Ingredients (Serves 6)
For the lamb shanks:
- 6 grass-fed /pastured lamb shanks
- 2 tablespoons grass-fed ghee
- Enough water to cover the shanks in a deep pot
- Splash apple cider vinegar
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons unrefined salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- pinch of ground cardamom
For the Middle Eastern chimichuri sauce:
- 1 cup packed fresh parsley, washed, dried and chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon unrefined salt
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked chipotle pepper (add more if you want it spicier)
(1) Prepare the lamb shanks: If frozen, thaw lamb shanks, and rinse under running water. Pat dry with paper towels. Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large skillet. Saute two crushed garlic cloves till fragrant, as well as a chopped sprig of fresh rosemary. Add the lamb shanks to the skillet to brown, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Add more ghee if necessary.
(2) Braise the shanks: Place the browned lamb shanks with garlic and rosemary in a deep stock pot, covered with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar, a quartered onion, some salt and pepper, pinch of cardamom, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours until tender.
(3) Prepare the chimichurri sauce: Rinse the fresh parsley, mint and oregano and lay flat to dry on paper towels. Meanwhile, peel and crush 6 garlic cloves. Finely chop the parsley, mint and oregano (either by hand or pulse a few times in a food processor). Mix with the crushed garlic, and add the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, fresh lime juice, cumin, coriander, salt and smoked chipotle pepper. Serve at room temperature alongside lamb shanks. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.
(4) Serve the braised tender lamb shanks, warm, with the Middle Eastern chimichurri sauce on the side.