Preserved or marinated lemons figure prominently as a flavor enhancer in Moroccan, Middle Eastern and North African cooking. If this dish is made in warmer weather, the hours of oven time may give cooks pause, but the lamb cooks at a relatively low temperature. And the glorious, prolonged aroma throughout the house will make it worthwhile.
Serve with spiced couscous (see Part II of this recipe) and harissa.
Part I can be made 3 days in advance; it needs refrigerator time to build flavor.
- 2 large preserved lemons
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 3/4 cups)
- 8 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted in a dry skillet for 30 seconds, then coarsely ground
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- 6 lamb shanks (about 8 to 9 pounds)
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch saffron threads, soaked in 6 tablespoons hot water for 20 minutes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several small pieces
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut a circle of parchment paper, using as a template the lid of a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed enameled pot.
Peel one of the preserved lemons and discard the inner flesh; reserve the remaining lemon for the Sunday Supper (see at left). Combine the preserved lemon rind, onion, garlic, cumin, olive oil and cilantro in the food processor and pulse until a coarse paste is formed.
Place the shanks in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed enamel pot and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Pour or spread the paste over them, adding the saffron and its water and the butter. Cover the meat with the paper circle; then cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil and press the lid firmly on top. Place the pot in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 275 degrees. Cook for 5 to 6 hours (checking after 5; cooking liquid will form). The meat should be beyond stringiness -- just butter-soft and tender. Cool to room temperature with the lid on (this can take several hours), then transfer the meat and juices to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
From Tamasin Day-Lewis; adapted from a Paula Wolfert recipe.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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