For the chile paste
1 dried Ancho chile, torn into small pieces with stems and seeds discarded
2 dried guajillo chiles,torn into small pieces with stems and seeds discarded
2 dried New Mexico chiles, torn into small pieces with stems and seeds discarded
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
4 cups chicken stock, divided
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp finely ground coffee
2 tbsp dark brown sugar*
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper
4 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 tbsp grape seed or canola oil
4 bone-in American lamb shanks (4 to 5 lbs total)
1 large white onion, sliced
Peel of 1 orange; juice reserved
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt, as needed
Hot sauce, to taste
12 tortillas, warmed
Suggested garnishes, as pictured
*Whole 30 substitutions: 3 to 4 pitted dates can replace brown sugar.
Special Equipment: Dutch oven pot with lid, blender or food processor, spice grinder (optional; not needed if using a high powered blender)
If you’ve already made (or at least read) the previous post for Tex-Mex Chili, you’ll find both the ingredients and process similar. Warm the Dutch oven pot over medium high heat, but don’t add any oil yet. Start out by toasting both the chiles and whole spices (cumin, coriander and anise) for a couple minutes until fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. You can do this all in one step or toast the chiles and spices separately.
Add the toasted chiles and spices to a blender or food processor and cover with 2 cups of hot stock. Steep for fifteen minutes until the chiles have softened. If you don’t have a high powered blender, transfer the toasted cumin, coriander and anise to a spice grinder first, and then add the ground spices along with the other chile paste ingredients in the next step. Once the chiles have softened, add the tomato paste, coffee, brown sugar, smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic cloves and oregano. Blend into a smooth puree.
Season the lamb shanks generously with salt. Add a bit of oil to the pot, over high heat. Once just shy of smoking add the shanks and sear on all sides until golden brown and crusty. It may be hard to get a few spots that don’t lie flat, but do the best you can. This should take about 15 minutes, working in batches if necessary if all of the shanks can’t fit at once.
Remove the lamb shanks from the pot and set aside. Add the sliced onions and cook for a few minutes until softened and charred, seasoning with a pinch of salt. Add the orange peels and cook for another minute.
Preheat your oven to 325° F. Add the chile paste and remaining stock, along with the bay leaves. Season to taste with kosher salt. Bring the braising liquid to a boil, then return the lamb shanks to the pot. Toss them to coat well in the sauce.
Cover the Dutch oven pot and transfer to the oven. Cook at 325° F for an hour, then rotate the shanks in the sauce. Cook for another hour, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bones.
Remove the shanks from the pot and set aside to cool slightly. Strain the sauce, discarding any solids. If you have time, you can transfer the sauce to a small dish and chill in the freezer for a little while to make it easier to skim the fat off the top. Otherwise, just use a ladle to skim the excess oil. Remember that orange juice you saved? Add it to the sauce now, it will add some acidity and sweetness to brighten the flavors up. If you want, add a few drops of hot sauce for heat. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce and simmer for a few minutes until it is about the consistency of barbecue sauce.
Once the lamb shanks are cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones. Discard any skin or cartilage. Try not to eat all the meat! Toss it back into the warm sauce.
Taco time. Pile that tender, shredded lamb meat on a warmed tortilla, then top with an avocado slice, pickled onion, fennel and chopped mint. (Or whatever garnishes you decide to go with!)
SERVINGS: 3 quarts
PREP TIME: Up to 4 hours, plus recommended cooling overnight