With spring finally here, I had been toying with the idea of creating a recipe for one of my Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA heirloom bean varieties paired with spring lamb. White beans and lamb shanks is a classic combination and I thought that the Arikara variety, which is similar to white beans but with a slightly heftier, earthier flavor and hue, would complement lamb well. A contest theme from the food52 website sparked the inspiration for the flavors for this dish: coffee. Once I started thinking about cooking lamb with coffee, a whole palette of flavors came to mind: cumin, cinnamon, star anise, and to offset the bitterness of the coffee, dates and sun dried tomatoes.
I prepared a spice rub for the lamb shanks with ground coffee, toasted cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, garlic, fresh rosemary, and coarse sea salt to help grind together the ingredients.
I coated the lamb shanks with the rub and let them sit for a bit, while I prepared the other ingredients.
For aromatics with the beans, I used celery and onions,
and to flavor the braising liquid I used ground cumin, ground coriander, smoked paprika, star anise and a cinnamon stick,
and a generous portion of diced dried dates and sun dried tomatoes.
After browning the lamb shanks, I sauteed the aromatics and the spices, and assembled the broth, beans, and lamb in a large Dutch oven. Then I left the pot to cook in a low oven for several hours, filling the house with fragrant scents, until the beans were tender and the lamb was falling off the bone. The final dish was quite rich and benefitted from degreasing, which I was able to do easily after it had cooled in the refrigerator overnight, since I cooked it the evening before I served it.
I accompanied it with a salad with chopped radishes and pears,
and garnished the lamb with fresh chopped parsley and orange zest. The final result was one of the most delicious dishes I've cooked this year. The flavor of the beans was intense and complex, and paired perfectly with the lamb, with no single ingredient dominating the dish. I was pleased that the editors at food52 agreed and awarded this recipe an editors' pick.
Coffee Infused Braised Lamb Shanks and Arikara Beans
- 2 lamb shanks
- 2 tablespoons finely ground dark coffee beans
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- olive oil
- 1 red onion
- 2-3 celery stalks
- 8 pitted dates
- 12 sun dried tomato halves (dried, not in oil)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground corinader
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups dried Arikara or white navy beans
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- zest of one orange
- 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsely
- Prepare the coffee spice rub for the lamb. Heat a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds for a minute or so until fragrant, and transfer to a mortar. Put the garlic cloves in the skillet and toast for several minutes, turning, until they develop some brown spots and start to soften. Remove the rosemary leaves from the stems, chop, and add to the mortar. Add the ground coffee, red pepper flakes, coarse sea salt, and peeled garlic cloves and smash well until the cumin seeds are crushed and you’ve created a smooth paste. You could also use a spice grinder or small food processor to prepare the rub. Coat the lamb shanks with the paste and let sit for a few minutes to infuse the flavors, while you prep the other ingredients.
- Soak the sun dried tomatoes in 2 cups boiling water for 15 minutes. Dice the onions and celery. Dice the dates and the sundried tomatoes, reserving the tomato-flavored water. Preheat the oven to 325.
- Heat a large Dutch oven or other ovenproof pan and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Over medium low heat, brown the lamb shanks on all sides, taking your time so that they have a chance to brown. Remove to a plate.
- Add another splash of olive oil if necessary, and put the onions and celery into the pot. Cook, stirring, until they are glassy. Add the ground cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add the diced dates and sundried tomatoes and cook another minute. Add the red wine and cook another minute. Add the rinsed beans, the reserved tomato-flavored water and three additional cups of boiling water. Nestle the lamb shanks into the beans, pouring in any juices that accumulated and add the star anise and cinnamon stick. Salt and add more boiling water if necessary to ensure that the beans are covered by 1 inch of liquid.
- Heat the beans and lamb shanks on the stovetop until the liquid is simmering and then cover the pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for about three hours, turning the lamb shanks occasionally and adding a little water if necessary, until the beans are tender and the lamb meat is falling off the bones. Toward the end of the cooking period, you could remove the pot lid to allow more of the liquid to cook off. The dish will be quite rich from the lamb fat and benefits from degreasing. You may want to cook this a day ahead, refrigerate it overnight, and then remove the hardened fat from the surface, and the reheat. Alternatively, remove pools of liquid fat from the surface with a spoon.
- Serve a generous portion of beans topped with a whole or half lamb shank. To prepare the garnish, chop together orange zest and parsley leaves and sprinkle over the lamb before serving.