Prep: 40 min
Cook: 2 hrs 20 min
8 small lamb shanks, about 2kg in total
pinch of sea salt, and cracked white pepper
3 vine-ripened tomatoes, roughly chopped
6 Potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into wedges
5 Spring onions, trimmed and cut into quarters
4 fresh dates, halved
4 fresh apricots, halved
6 Bay leaves
750ml chicken stock
juice of 2 limes
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
For the spice paste:
small pinch of saffron strands
2 tsp boiling water
3 tsp Fennel seeds
2 whole Star anise
10 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 cinnamon quill
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 large red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
8 garlic clove, crushed
7cm knob of fresh ginger root, sliced
30g coriander stems and roots, finely sliced
30g fresh turmeric root, finely sliced
75g galangal, roughly chopped
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp White peppercorns
150g Shallots, finely sliced
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
250ml extra virgin olive oil
40g firmly packed palm sugar
60ml Fish Sauce
1. First, make the spice paste. Combine the saffron with the boiling water and set aside.
2. Put the fennel seeds, star anise, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, cinnamon and Sichuan peppercorns in a small frying pan and dry-roast over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
3. Pound roasted spices with a pestle and mortar until cardamom is bruised. Discard cardamom husks and keep pounding until all the spices are finely ground. Set aside.
4. Pound chillies, garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric and galangal with the pestle and mortar until you have a coarse paste.
5. Add the sea salt and white peppercorns, and pound until peppercorns are lightly crushed.
6. Add shallots, saffron strands with their soaking water, paprika, reserved ground spices and olive oil, and mix well to combine.
7. Put the paste in a heavy-based, medium-sized frying pan and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant.
8. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
9. Add in the palm sugar and fish sauce. Increase the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for a further 2 minutes, or until mixture is slightly caramelised. Remove from stove and set aside.
10. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Season the lamb shanks with sea salt and white pepper and seal in a hot, oiled roasting tin on the stove top until lightly browned on all sides.
11. Drain off any excess oil and drizzle the prepared spice paste over lamb, combining over high heat to coat well and seal in flavours.
12. Add in the tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, dates, apricots and bay leaves, and stir to combine.
13. Remove the tin from the stove, pour over stock and cover with foil.
14. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake for a further 1 hour, or until lamb is very tender and well browned.
15. Remove the lamb from oven and drizzle with lime juice and fish sauce before serving.
“This is a perfect dish for a winter dinner party, ” , “because it’s so rich and complex, all it really needs is some plain rice or polenta, or some crusty bread and a green salad. Although it’s quite time-consuming to make, there’s really nothing more therapeutic on a chilly day than roasting spices then pounding them into a paste with fresh aromatics using a pestle and mortar – the fragrance is quite intoxicating! And after its long braising time, the lamb is infused with all the warm, soft flavours of the spices and is meltingly tender.”