Aromatic Lamb-Shank Stew with Couscous

Nigella Lawson blends spices from around the world to create this richly meaty stew
By Nigella Lawson
Aromatic Lamb-Shank Stew with Couscous
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 6
  • Cook Time: 2.3333333333333335 hours 20 minutes
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Effort: medium


For the stew

  • 6 tbsp groundnut oil, or vegetable oil
  • 8 lamb shanks
  • 2 onions
  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 pinches salt
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 dried chillies, or 0.25 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.25 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 1 pinches pepper
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp marsala
  • 6 tbsp Puy lentils
  • 3 tbsp pistachio nuts, blanched almonds or a mixture of both, chopped, to serve

For the couscous

  • 500 g couscous
  • 2 tsp salt
  • cardamom pods
  • 25 g unsalted butter, in 2 slices
  • 25 g blanched flaked almonds
  • 50 g pine kernels
  • 25 g pistachio nuts

Tips and Suggestions

Don't let the word stew put you off. Yes, I know it's crippled with connotations of school-dinner gristle and gluey-gravied mess, but the lamb shanks here are anything but that. Of course, you could use shoulder, cut into greed-satisfying chunks, and it still wouldn't be compromised, but the bone in the shank gives such rounded richness of flavour and there's something so unpretentiously satisfying about the great meaty hunkiness of it on the plate. Since supermarkets now routinely stock (or will order in) lamb shanks, and since they're both meaty and cheap, it makes sense to seek them out for this.

The spicing, the muddy softening of the lentils within, owe something to Moroccan cooking, but only obliquely. I've used the seasonings - Marsala, soy - I have regularly to hand (unlike restaurant chefs, I don't re-kit my non-existent pantry for each new recipe) to bring to it the mellow depth I want to find.

As with all stews, this is even better when made in advance and reheated; for me, this only makes things easier. The couscous, however, needs to be made last minute. If you don't own a couscoussier (and there's no reason why you should) just steam these grains above boiling water in an ordinary vegetable steamer. Of course it's possible to cook couscous just by steeping it in boiling water (and check packet instructions for directions) but I can't honestly tell you it will make them as fluffily light.

Otherwise, with this aromatic, sauce-rich stew, just serve plain rice instead - or a bowlful of buttery mash, of half potatoes, half parsnips, well seasoned and spiced with mace.


1. Put 3 tablespoons of the oil into a very large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan and warm over medium heat. Brown the lamb shanks, in batches, in the pan and then remove to a roasting tin or whatever else you've got to hand to sit them in.

2. Peel the onions and garlic and process in a food processor or chop them finely by hand.

3. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and fry the onion-garlic mush until soft, sprinkling salt over to stop it catching.

4. Stir in the turmeric, ground ginger, chilli, cinnamon and nutmeg, and season with some freshly ground pepper. Stir again, adding the honey, soy sauce and Marsala.

5. Put the shanks back in the pan, add cold water almost to cover, bring to the boil then put a lid on the pan, lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 to 1 and a half hours or until the meat is tender.

6. Add the red lentils and cook for about 20 minutes longer without a lid, until the lentils have softened into the sauce, and the juices have reduced and thickened slightly. Check for seasoning.

7. Toast the nuts by heating them for a few minutes in a dry frying pan, and sprinkle onto the lamb as you serve it.

8. To make the couscous, fill the bottom of a steamer, or base of a couscoussier should you possess one, with water and bring to the boil.

9. When it looks like it's almost ready to boil, fill the kettle and put it on, then empty the couscous into a glass bowl, add the salt, crush in the cardamom and mix with your fingers, then pour over a litre of boiling water from the kettle and place a plate on top of the bowl. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then drain and empty into the steamer or couscoussier top and sit this on top of the boiling water beneath.

10. Add the slices of butter on top of the couscous then clamp on the lid and let steam for 7-10 minutes, by which time the couscous should be tenderly cooked and the butter melting. (You can do this a simpler way, if you prefer, by just steeping the couscous in the boiling water for 10-15 minutes, but the grains will be more dense and more likely to clump. It's not disastrous, however, and you must decide what you're prepared to do.)

11. Meanwhile, toast the almonds by frying them in a dry pan till fragrant and golden, remove them to a plate then do the same to the pinenuts.

12. Chop the pistachios. Once the couscous is cooked, tip into a bowl, fork through (and always use a fork for mixing or fluffing up couscous; a spoon will crush it and turn it stodgy), sprinkling in the almonds and pine nuts as you do so (and taste for seasoning at the same time, too). Now fork in most of the pistachios, and sprinkle those that remain lightly on top.

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