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pomegranate fig lamb shanks

Ingredients

4 1/2 to 5 pounds lamb shanks (about 3 to 4 shanks), preferably split at the shank end, as pictured *
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for browning the lamb
3/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/4 cup stock (either beef, vegetable, or chicken)
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (or more to taste) **
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon table-salt for the braising liquid (or to taste—first check how much salt is in your stock)
6 fresh figs, halved ***
optional: 1 teaspoon minced parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Sprinkle the first 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt on both sides of the lamb shanks.
  3. Heat a large stockpot or dutch oven over high heat for a couple minutes. Once the pan is hot, add the lamb shanks with the fat-side facing the pan. Let the shanks sit undisturbed for 3 to 5 minutes, until they develop a nice brown color on one side. Flip them and let the other side brown for another 3 to 5 minutes. Work in batches if you need to, and avoid crowding the pan.
  4. Once all of the lamb pieces are fully seared, reduce heat to low. Remove the shanks to a plate, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat, and immediately add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. They will brown immediately, and then soften as they continue to cook.
  5. After 5 minutes, add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the onions and cook for no longer than 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  6. Deglaze the pan with the 1 1/4 cups stock, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  7. Turn the heat up to medium and add the pomegranate molasses, crushed red pepper, red wine vinegar, and second amount of salt.
  8. Add the seared lamb shanks to the braising liquid and try to get everything to fit as snugly as possible.
  9. Nest the fig halves in the gaps between and on top of the lamb shanks, wherever you can fit them.
  10. Cover and move to the oven for about 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender and pulls apart easily with a fork. It will get tough before getting tender.
  11. Once it’s done, remove the lamb shanks and figs to a serving platter (keep it warm in the oven, if necessary) and skim the fat from the sauce with a fat separator or a spoon. **** Alternatively, you could refrigerate the whole thing overnight and then just scrape up the solidified fat. It will not diminish in flavor or quality (if anything it will be even tastier the next day).
  12. Reheat the sauce in the microwave if necessary, and spoon the sauce over the lamb shanks and figs. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Notes

* If the shanks are not split, and/or if you don’t have a wide dutch oven, it’ll be harder to fit them together in one even layer—you want to make sure that each piece of meat is submerged almost halfway in the sauce. If you can’t get the lamb shanks to fit in one layer, the skinny ends can stick pretty far out of the braising liquid.

** Different brands of pomegranate molasses vary in sweetness and acidity. If yours is particularly tangy and sweet, use 1/4 cup. If it is on the mellower side, try as much as 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons.

*** If it’s not fig season, feel free to omit them, adding an extra 2 tablespoons of stock to the liquid.

**** To use the spoon method, move the sauce to a bowl so that it’s easier to work with. Place the spoon so that it is almost parallel to the sauce’s surface, like a little raft at sea. Keeping it parallel to the surface, slowly let the spoon sink slightly into the liquid, allowing the fat to rush into the spoon’s bowl. Be careful not to dip to low or on too much of an angle, or else you’ll remove a lot of the sauce with the fat. Remove and repeat until you’ve skimmed most of the fat (it takes about 5 minutes).