This recipe came to me by way of an old friend; this recipe holds a regular spot in her dinner party rotation, and it’s always a big hit.
It invariably produces fall-off-the-bone lamb shanks, bite-sized onions that melt in your mouth, all in a sauce swimming with butter and that particular caramelized magic that you only get when butter, onions, and tomatoes are given the time to get properly intimate.
The first time I made it, I went straight back to the store the next day and bought 8 more lamb shanks to make more.
I will find it very difficult to try making lamb shanks any other way than this from now on; the effort-reward ratio is just too good.
Incik Kebap (Turkish Lamb Shanks)
- A wide. non-reactive oven-proof skillet or pot (ideally enameled cast iron or stainless steel), with a lid.
- 4 lamb shanks
- 4 tbsp butter
- 14 oz canned tomatoes, crushed or stewed About 400g, or one large can. Substitute option 1: a pound of fresh tomatoes, with 2tsp tomato paste mixed with 2Tbsp water. Substitute option 2: 8oz (small can) of canned tomatoes, with 1 cup of water.
- 1 1/2 lb pearl or boiling onions About 750g. When in doubt, add more onions.
- 1 bell pepper, sliced If you like it spicy, substitute 3 serrano chilis, sliced. I would advise against jalapenos because of their flavor… but hey, you do you.
- 1 1/2 tsp salt Add additional salt to taste, but this is a good starting point.
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 tsp dried thyme If I'm honest, I almost always add a little bit more than what's called for. Substitute option: 1 1/4 tsp of fresh thyme.
- Pre-heat your oven to 350F (175C).
- In your pot (or Dutch/French oven) over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Once the butter foam dies down, place your lamb shanks in and brown them on at least two sides, about 3 minutes per side. Lower your heat if the butter seems about to burn.
- While your lamb shanks are browning, peel your onions and slice the bell pepper into strips.
- Once the lamb shanks are well browned, add the peeled onions, sliced pepper, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and thyme to the pot. Use a spoon or spatula to distribute everything; no need for perfection here.
- Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the onions are well softened. Check after the first hour, and add a little water if the shanks are in danger of burning or drying out.
- Serve hot, with bread or rice.
- If you use fresh tomatoes, feel free to roast them in the oven first, until they are very slightly blackened; if canned, some brands offer “fire roasted” versions. Either adds a little bit more caramelized goodness to the final sauce.
- Because I am a glutton for glutamates, I always add at least a teaspoon of tomato paste, mixed into a tablespoon or two of water, to the braising liquid.
- I have not found “boiling onions,” which the original recipe calls for, nor have I looked very hard for them. I just get the largest pearl onions I can find, with (to me) no detectable harm to the dish.
- I like to scatter fresh mint leaves over the lamb shanks immediately before serving; a chiffonade would also do well but will blacken more quickly.
- This dish is quite heavy, so something slightly acidic and fresh is sometimes called for to balance it out. My personal preference is cacik (the Turkish word for what you might know better as tzatziki), with cucumber dill and/or mint, served alongside the bread or rice, but something like a mint chutney would also pair admirably.
- If there is sauce left over, try it with some pasta or leftover rice.
- The dish keeps very well in the fridge, and I think it’s actually better the next day. Warm gently in a low oven or a microwave (I know, sacrilege) at 50% power until hot before serving.
- If you do opt to make this ahead of time, do yourself a favor and pry off some of the hardened layer of fat — which is essentially ghee mixed with lamb fat, infused with caramelized onions and tomatoes — after the dish has chilled, and reserve it for later. Use it for fried eggs, on toast, to replace the butter in your next chelo ba tahdig or ragu, or as a substitute for the fat in your favorite pasta dish (aglio e olio with this is mind blowing). I haven’t popped corn in it yet… that’s on my list for the next time I make this.