Braised Lamb Shank with Ras El Hanout, photos by donna

I’m finishing up answering copy-edit queries on the new book, my beliefs on the core techniques of cooking due out next fall from Chronicle, and also going over some last minute testing with the good folks at cookskorner.com.

One of the recipes being tested is a Moroccan-style braised lamb shank using lemon confit and the blend of spices known as ras el hanout.  The testers asked, for those who weren’t able to find it in their town, should I include a recipe for it.

The book is already running long and I’m not an expert on the subject, so I thought why not include a link to it rather than my own version?  Yes, but how do I know the online version I find will be any less spurious than mine?

Go to an expert.  I emailed the author, teacher, cook, Paula Wolfert, whose books I admire enormously (this one on the cooking of southwestern France is a personal favorite).  Her book Couscous and Other Good Food From Morroco, first published in 1973, is still in print.

Happily, Paula is finishing up an expanded version of the book, The New Moroccan Cookbook, due out from Ecco next fall.  And she offers the following ras el hanout recipe from the forth-coming book.  (Thanks Paula, and congrats on the new book!) She notes that all ras el hanout is made according to the cook’s tastes, there is no one right version (a fortunate circumstance since cubeb peppercorns can be hard to find!  (Paula recommends mustaphas.com as a source for ingredients.) She also notes that it’s very volatile.  Best to make it in smaller quantities and store it well.

Ras El Hanout

(from the forthcoming The New Moroccan Cookbook, by Paula Wolfert)

The following blend, added to meat tagines that include honeyed fruits, will make sweet-tart Moroccan dishes even tastier. As little as ½ to l teaspoon of this mixture added to the other spices called for in a recipe will provide an extra boost. —PW

1 tablespoon each: whole cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and

dried rosebuds

1 teaspoon each: ground turmeric, grated nutmeg, and ginger

10 green cardamom seeds

10 cubeb peppercorns

2 cloves

2 mace blades

2 soft (Ceylon) cinnamon sticks

A pinch of grated nutmeg

Toast the cumin seeds (unnecessary if they are Moroccan), coriander seeds, and cardamom pods in a heavy bottomed skillet over low heat for 5 minutes, or until aromatic and the seeds begin to crackle and pop.

Grind all the spices together, sieve and store in a closed jar in a dark place. Keeps about 1 month.

You’ll have to wait for the book to come out if you want the exact recipe.  But I don’t mind mentioning the subject of tomatoes here.  When I don’t have stock on hand but want to braise meat, I often reach for a can of San Marzano or Glen Muir whole skinned tomatoes. I puree them right in the can (pouring off the juice first into the braising pot) and use them as the braising medium.  Results in a delicious sauce.

Sear your meat, cook down some onions and garlic, add your seasonings, such as curry or ras el hanout, add your tomatoes bring to a simmer, cover with a parchment lid, and braise at 275 t0 300 degrees F./135 to 150 degrees C. till fork tender.

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11 Wonderful responses to “Braised Lamb with Ras El Hanout”

  • Matt

    Can you talk more about the use of the lemon confit? On an impulse, I made a big batch of preserved lemons and am unsure of all the ways that they may be used. Is Moroccan cuisine the only application?

    • derek

      Pretty much! I mean, you know what preserved lemons taste like and can surely figure out when to just throw them into stuff (like, say, artichoke dishes), but the Moroccan braises are their main traditional application.

  • Russell

    Wolfert’s ‘Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco’ is one of my absolute favorite cookbooks, I’m thrilled that she’s getting an updated version out!

  • Drago

    Why the parchment lid vs. the lid that comes with the dutch oven or pot?

    Moroccan/ North African cuisine is so tasty. Sorely underrepresented in the US, which is a shame.

  • faustianbargain

    ras el hanout can be used for a variety of vegetarian dishes too. its the ultimate DIY blend. my ras el hanout includes long pepper, lavender and orris root powder. with more cardamom, saffron, anise and a touch of orange zest..but my blend is more floral than spicy. with a higher ratio of ginger and pepper and minus cumin/coriander, it works well for a moroccan ginger bread spice blend. or to spice the filling for a vegetarian bisteeya.

  • Jake O

    I’m with Sean. I can’t think of Ras el Hanout without thinking about Batman. Homemade is always best, but for the convenience minded, Williams-Sonoma just started carrying it. Chuck Williams was stationed in Morocco during WWII, so Moroccan food has always been featured at WS. Thanks!

  • arodherh

    Looks wonderful! I often cook lamb shanks and always remove the silverskin/fascia, but I never see any cooks mention this. Do you bother, or just let it try to tenderize with the meat?

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