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Settling a Debate in an NYC Cab

Friday, September 16, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her perfect day, her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

As a New Yorker, I brave the cracked pavement, dodge the deliverymen on bicycles and boast of my worn MetroCard. But there is one mode of transportation that, while costly, can be more than a way to get from point A to Point B. I relish my place firmly seated and belted into the back of the iconic yellow New York City cab. I proudly raise my hand, a little sweaty in the sweltering summer heat or snuggly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare passenger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and limousine commission, but because I want to engage him in conversation and knowing his name makes our ride more personal and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invariably politics arises, as most of the cabbies hail from somewhere else and came to America for a better life. They are at the same time grateful for America welcoming them and vocal about the mishandling of many current issues. The typical cabbie has the radio on the entire day and their stations seem to hover on talk radio where they are inundated with political views and pundits weighing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica Queens, they have focused opinions and a clearer understanding of how politics function (or don’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

While I too am fascinated with current events, I find my conversation always turns to food. The intriguing accents prompt me to ask, “where are you originally from?” I have met drivers from just about every region Rand McNally can map. There is no doubt that there are a disproportionate number of drivers from Pakistan, India, and Middle Eastern countries. From kippahs to turbans, the drivers represent their region with pride. On one short ride from the Upper East Side to midtown Manhattan I had the pleasure of talking to a Jewish cabbie who immediately sensed I was Jewish as well. We talked about children and parents and then I slipped into the conversation that I had just completed writing a cookbook called The Kosher Carnivore. “Ah,” he said, “you are the perfect person to end a debate for me.”

“Happily,” I replied. He began to tell me that for years his wife would prepare kosher chicken for Shabbat. When he would offer to stop at a regular market to buy a bird, she would reply adamantly, “it needs to be a kosher bird.” “Why?” he would ask, “we’re not kosher.” “Oh,” she would reply, “what do you know? My mother tells me it’s a better bird.” He then asked me for my informed opinion.

I was in a position to settle an argument that had endured for decades. I could bring glory to the driver who was right in saying it didn’t matter or lend credence to his mother-in-law who felt it decidedly did. What to do, what to do??? I find the truth and the facts always work best, so I replied with clear conviction. “A kosher chicken is superior!”

That’s not only my professional opinion, but a conclusion reached by America’s test kitchens and published in their magazine Cooks Illustrated. After testing a number of well-known brands, they concluded without a doubt that kosher chickens are the best. It makes sense. After all, kosher birds are essentially brined as a result of the koshering process and while they can be a bit more feathered and in need of electrolysis when you get them home, they are definitely plumper and juicier.

He looked a bit dejected and sorry that he ever brought the discussion up. I told him he would need to make peace with both his wife and, more humbling, with his mother-in-law. He then shared with me that his wife had passed several years ago and his mother-in-law long before that. He now felt he owed them both an apology that was impossible to deliver. I apologized for enlightening him and ending the debate not as he hoped I would. He chuckled and said, “at least the next time I go to Scarsdale for Shabbat dinner at my daughter’s, I will be sure to tell her I can stop at the kosher butcher to pick up the chicken. She will be so impressed that I knew instinctually which bird to buy!”

Simple Spatchcocked Chicken and roasted root vegetables

Grab your dictionary and you’ll find that spatchcock is a method of splitting (butterflying) achicken. It’s a fun word, which you can use to impress your friends or win at Scrabble. If time is crunching, but you want to make a crispy, flavorful roast chicken, butterflying is a great option.

Behind the Counter
Have your butcher, butterfly the chickens. You can do this yourself by removing the backbone and pressing down on the breast till flat.

Alternate cut turkey parts(=$)
About 2 to 4 servings
Start to Finish Under 1 ½ hours

1 (3 1/2 -to-4-pound) chicken
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium celery root, trimmed, peeled and cut into small dice
1 medium leek, split and rinsed, white part only
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled, with the top cut off
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon corn starch

Dry the chicken and place the bird on a paper towel-lined plate, refrigerate, uncovered for 1 hour. This can be done earlier in the day, cover the chicken if it sits longer than an hour. When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and take the chicken out of the fridge. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and season both sides with salt, pepper and paprika.

Prepare the veggies by cutting the carrots, parsnips and celery root into 1-inch thick pieces. For the celery root, remove the Medusa looking end and stand the celery root on this flat side. Using a wide knife, cut around the root, holding one hand on top of the celery root and turning it as you go. Cut off the remaining end. Cut the celery root into rounds, then into cubes.

For the leeks, remove the tough green ends. Split the leeks down the middle lengthwise, andthen cut them lengthwise again. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water, pat dry. Donot separate the leeks into strands, they roast better when they are left intact.

Place the leeks, rosemary and thyme in the center of a roasting pan. Lay the chicken, skin side down on top of the leeks. Sprinkle the carrots, parsnips, garlic and celery root around the chicken. Drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of stock into the pan.

Roast at 425 degrees, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken over and continue roasting for 20 minutes longer. Position the legs so they slightly cover the breast, this will help the legs brown while preventing the breast from overcooking. Baste the chicken with the collected juices, and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh portion reads 160 to 165 degrees. Remove the chickens to a plate, and cover loosely with foil. They will gain 5 to 10 degrees while resting.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and cover to keep warm. Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze the garlic from each clove, into the roasting pan. Discard the outer skins. Take the roasting pan and place it on the stove. Skim off some of the fat, and then add the remaining stock, wine, lemon and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Whisk to pick up any brown bits in the pan and incorporate the ingredients, being sure to mash the garlic into the sauce. Heat the sauce until it thickens. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and serve.

June Hersh has been blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe. Her new book is The Kosher Carnivore.

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A Picture Perfect Day

Thursday, September 15, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

I am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of twenty to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo.  But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for,The Kosher Carnivoremy second book.  My first book, Recipes Remembered, featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told.  Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust.  But for The Kosher Carnivore, we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.

I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance.  My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand.  Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father.  Allison, would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography.  But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink.  He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.

The night before I diligently enforced the three words that every chef evokes: mise en place.  In French, that translates to mean “everything in place,” and for cooks it is what stands between disaster and delicious.  Prepping ingredients, stocking my pantry, and setting a timeline were part of my late night homework.  Ziploc bags became filled with chopped onions, diced carrots and julienned leeks.  The fridge was loaded with uncorked wine, lemons waiting to be zested and meat and poultry marinating the night away.

I didn’t need a rooster to wake me as I barely closed my eyes, reviewing my notes and plotting my course.  I had the daunting task of preparing 19 separate dishes to shoot the 11 photos we had hoped to capture. I needed to be part circus juggler, part Julia Child and part Zen master as without calm the day would be a catastrophe.

With ovens preheating exactly on time, pans sizzling when they were supposed to and pots boiling in anticipation, I began my day well before the morning pundits were delivering the news.  As the beef was seasoned and speedily tucked into the oven, the first of several timers was set.  The bird was butterflied for the spatchcocked chicken and it waited its turn patiently as the roast began to brown.  If the food emerges too soon it withers while the shot is being set up. Too late and you lose precious time and natural light.  Ben and my personal assistants were terrific.  Like Rocky retreating to his corner, I was given quick shoulder rubs, short pep talks and the occasional pat on the tush with a “go get em mom” to renew my energy!

At the end of the day we had some fabulous photos and more meat lining my counter than a butcher shop the day before Passover.  I was in a veritable food coma as we devoured every dish that emerged.  We ate prime rib and Yorkshire pudding for breakfast, fried chicken and mashed potatoes for mid-morning snack and herb crusted lamb chops with creamed spinach (that’s right, without cream or butter) for lunch.  Dessert was veal Milanese topped with field greens. Our midday feeding frenzy began with sliced hanger steak followed by pasta tossed with broccoli rabe and kosher sausage.  With not much room left, we nibbled on brisket and kasha, pretzel rolled hotdogs and lamb sliders. We washed it all down with the last dish of the day, Asian chicken noodle soup.

I was happily exhausted as the sun began to set and the photos uploaded to Ben’s laptop.  My hair was tussled, my apron stained, my feet aching – no one said it would be glamorous.  But in a whirlwind 24 hours, I gained confidence – and pounds – and was completely satisfied with both.

Abundant Asian Noodle Soup                                            

I like to think of this soup as a salad bar in a soup bowl, where everyone can add their own favorite vegetables to the sublime flavor of the sweet and sour broth.

About 4 servings

Start to Finish  Under 30 minutes

1 quart chicken stock

¾ pound bok choy, rinsed, white part chopped, leafy portion cut into strips.

½ pound Napa cabbage, leafy part only, chopped

6 ounces white mushrooms sliced very thin, caps only

1 (7-ounce) jar baby corn, drained

1 garlic clove, smashed

3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Pinch of ground ginger

1 (3-ounce) package ramen, shirataki or udon noodles, prepared as directed

2 cups shredded chicken (see pages136-137 to prepare freshly roasted breasts, or use “ bonus” chicken)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


2 scallions, chopped

Chili-garlic sauce, to taste

In a large soup pot add the stock and heat just until simmering. Add the white portion of the chopped bok choy, chopped Napa cabbage, sliced mushrooms, baby corn and garlic clove to the soup. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger, and then add to the soup pot.  Heat for about 15 minutes on a low flame.

While the soup cooks, prepare the noodles according to package directions, reserve.

Add the chicken pieces and strips of the bok choy leaves to the soup and cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust the soy (for salty), mirin (for sweet) and vinegar (for sour) to balance the taste.  Evenly divide the prepared noodles into the soup bowls and ladle the hot soup over them.  Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and for those who like it spicy, top with a shot of chili-garlic sauce.


The mixture of vegetables is endless, and you can easily add more veggies to this pot, you’ll have less broth to solid ration, but that’s OK.  Straw mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots can all be added after being drained and rinsed. Fresh vegetable options include snow peas, green peas, thinly sliced carrots, and fresh bean sprouts. Use your imagination and your family’s personal favorites to create the perfect mélange.

Check back tomorrow for June Hersh’s final post and recipe for the Visiting Scribe.

Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | Permalink

June Hersh is the author of The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, available this week. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s author blogging series.

As a food writer you need to be prepared to answer just about any question tossed at you during a Q&A. I like to feel I know my subject matter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x-rated) to research something I am not 100% certain of. While I should be dreaming of food, I am instead trying to unravel its mysteries. My obsession with information is justified as I have been asked if a free-range chicken is happier than its caged neighbor, or whether America’s fascination with hummus is a fad or here to stay. Understanding food is my job, and the better my understanding the more clearly I can communicate the power of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a question I was asked during a radio interview: what is Jewish food? Truth is, it’s a great question with no easy answer.

In my first book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, I told the stories of Holocaust survivors and recreated their cherished recipes. No one would question that the kugel I tasted, the matzo ball soup I slurped and the brisket I devoured were Jewish foods. They have been eaten in every Jewish home, prepared in a myriad of ways and while ingredients and techniques vary, they definitely fall into the Jewish food arena.

My second book, The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, was designed to be a departure from the typical Jewish cookbook, focusing on techniques and recipes that crossed borders and time-zones and appealed to both Jewish and non-Jewish cooks alike. Using a meaty cut of osso buco or a testosterone driven capon, I prepared what I consider to be eclectic but unexpected kosher food. Yet once the word kosher is involved in a book title, the perception is you are presenting Jewish food.

The real issue is how do we define Jewish food when we don’t have a specific country we can point to for culinary inspiration? It’s not as if Israeli food represents Jewish food, or that there is a country where Jewish food is the mainstay cuisine.

Consider this: we’ve been thrown out of all the best countries in the world, so we have incorporated in our cooking style the best of every culture’s culinary point of view. We have cleverly adapted or adopted cooking from regions we have found ourselves in and made those styles our own.

Additionally, we don’t have a cooking icon who defines our cuisine. Proud Americans can point to James Beard or Julia Child, Italian cooks marvel over Mario, or the British single out…OK bad example. There are many great chefs who happen to be Jewish but they are not celebrated for preparing what many consider Jewish food.

So what makes a food Jewish? Here’s my theory: I think that beef bourguignon is Jewish food when made by a woman who endured the Holocaust on the outskirts of Paris and learned to make this classic French dish for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I propose that the Sephardic meat cakes that I helped my grandmother make every Passover typify the ultimate Jewish food for my family. It is a dish I now make annually and one I hope will endure for years to come. I contend it’s watching your favorite aunt make her signature latkes and serving them every Chanukah. And isn’t that what makes a food truly Jewish? It is the process of learning to make that dish with someone you love, it is the hope that dish will find a legacy, it is the association of that food with a family gathering. It is an indefinable cuisine with tradition being the main ingredient.

Some scholars maintain that matzo is the only true Jewish food. And who with any culinary pride or pedigree would want to lay claim to that? As far as I know there are no restaurants called “Matzo and More” or “Mostly Matzo.” So, in our search for a Jewish restaurant, is our local deli the only fix for traditional Jewish fixings?

Absolutely not. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the ubiquitous Jewish dishes disguised in many of today’s trendiest restaurants. Visit the newest three-star eatery where the decibel level is only exceeded by the number of young things stacked at the bar. Order the toasted buckwheat with farfalle and smile, because you’re eating kasha varnishkes. Try the paper-thin dumplings stuffed with beef and onions and understand they are kreplach answering to another name. Care to cool off with chilled roasted beet soup? That’s borscht in my book. And when you order biscotti for dessert, remember, twice baked mandel bread is biscotti’s Jewish cousin with less effective PR.

And what about buzz words like locavore and organic, which might seem new and flashy? Jewish cooks were organic locavores long before the terms became fashionable. They knew that if it grew in your backyard or was raised on the farm next door, it was dinner. These cooks can prepare cabbage a hundred different ways and manage to nuance sweet and sour so that your tongue delights like a choreographed dance. In writing and researching both books, it struck me that the more we move forward in our food trends the closer we get to the Jewish food our grandparents prepared. If we ate like 85-year-old Polish peasants, we could skip the occasional spin class, lighten up on the energy bars and enjoy a shot of schnapps a little more often.

Tonight when I am awake at a time I should be asleep and I am tempted to Google some obscure food, I should turn off the light, shut down the computer and be contented that I am satisfied with my answer to the question “what is Jewish food?” It is not limited by region, not constrained by ingredients, and never short on love and tradition. It might be difficult to define, hard to categorize or even digest. But, it is the food that has always nurtured and nourished us, and is happily enjoying a spirited revival in the hands of a new generation of Jewish cooks.


This dish, which has its roots in Milan, is braised in wine and aromatics and served over saffron scented rice. Osso Buco actually translates to mean, “ hole bone”, alluding to the rich melt inyour mouth marrow contained in the center. Be sure to provide small forks or little knives tocoax out the soft delicacy. This recipe calls for a dash of balsamic vinegar and the option ofadding olives and anchovies to give the dish a little extra intrigue. The gremolata topping isoptional, but lends a vibrant note when spooned over the veal.

Behind the Counter Have your butcher cut the shanks into 2 ½ – to – 3-inch pieces (about10 ounces each). Ask your butcher to tie kitchen twine around the outside of the meat, as ifcinching the shank with a belt at the waist, so that it does not fall off the bone when cooking.Alternate cuts There is no exact substitute that will produce the same dish, but you can use thesesame ingredients and method to prepare veal spare ribs (-$) or lamb shanks (-$).

About 4 servings
Start to Finish: Under 2 ½ hours

4 veal shanks cut osso buco style
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup flour for dredging, seasoned with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground blackpepper and 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives, optional
2 to 3 small anchovy filets, finely minced or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste, optional
¾ cup white wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups chicken stock
1 bouquet garni- 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, wrapped and tied in cheesecloth, pouch or with kitchen twine. (If you are not preparing the gremolata, then add 6 sprigs of parsley to the bouquet.)

½ cup freshly minced flat – leaf parsley
1 lemon peel, zested
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a braising pot. Pat the veal dry, and dredge theveal in the seasoned flour. Brown the veal on both sides, over medium – high heat, until a nicebrown crust forms on each piece. Remove the veal to a plate. In the same pot, cook the carrotsand onions over medium heat, until lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add the smashed garlic, andthe olives and anchovies if using, and cook 5 minutes longer. Pour the wine and vinegar intothe pot, scraping up any bits that collected on the bottom and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Place the veal back into the pot, along with any liquid that collected on the plate. Add the tomatoes and stock. The liquids shouldn’t drown the meat; the top portion ofeach shank should show. Nestle the bouquet garni in the sauce. Cover and cook at 325 degreesfor 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Prepare the gremolata, by combining all the ingredients, reserve. When the meat is finished cooking, carefully remove the meat and vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon. Removeand discard the bouquet garni and bring the sauce to a slow boil. To thicken the sauce, createa slurry by mixing 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 4 teaspoons of water, stir back into the pot,heat and repeat if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the veal (remove the string) and top each serving with a generous pinch of gremolata.

Osso Buco and rice Milanese have enjoyed a long marriage. Preparing rice Milanese is as easyas making boiled rice, with the addition of golden saffron threads, which add the mellow yellowcolor and a burst of flavor. This precious spice comes from the dried stigma of a saffron crocusand by weight is the most expensive spice in the world. You only need a pinch to impart itsdistinctive taste and distinguishing color. Prepare your white rice as directed on the package andadd a pinch of saffron to the cooking liquid. If you replace the water with chicken or vegetablestock, the flavor will be even more amplified.

Check back all week for more posts and recipes from June Hersh.

My Culinary Journey

Monday, September 12, 2011 | Permalink

June Hersh is the author of The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, available this week. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Visiting Scribe.

If you had told me on my 55th birthday that in the coming year I would have a cookbook published and a second one in the works I would have told you to promptly return your crystal ball to Amazon and ask for a full refund. Prior to that year I had many roles, foremost mother and wife, and secondarily as a teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School, founder of Fancy Schmancy, a children’s clothing company, and resource coordinator for my family’s lighting business. But cookbook author was not on my resume.

After we sold our business, my sister stated what would become our mantra– we did well, now let’s do good. I took those as marching orders and proceeded to discover my newest incarnation, cookbook author. It seemed like a natural choice. I have always been a student of everything food, an adventurous eater and fearless cook. I find that there are not many endeavors that give you the instant gratification cooking does. Maybe it’s the Jewish mother in me, but the act of nurturing and nourishing is in my DNA. So many of my favorite memories are set around the kitchen table as a child, watching my mother lovingly prepare even the simplest dish. She could turn grilled cheese and tomato soup into a five star experience. So it seemed so natural that this would be the niche that I found to bring a new richness to my days.

My first project was Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, a book focused on the stories and recipes of Holocaust survivors. I would personally interview each and every survivor or their family member and write their remarkable story and recreate their cherished recipes. The good would be that I would donate all the proceeds to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, an institution that stands as a living memorial to the Holocaust. The experience was life-changing and resulted in a beautiful book that has raised both funds and awareness.

Once I was bit by the cookbook bug I didn’t want it to end. That incredible project was something that excited me every morning and kept me up at night. I dream in shades of medium rare, so it seemed to be an organic decision to write a book focused on meat and poultry. Happily, St. Martin’s Press agreed. The Kosher Carnivore was a revelation as it took my cooking to the next level. This time I wasn’t rebuilding other people’s recipes, I was creating my own. What could I do to meld succulent lamb shanks with pomegranates bursting with ripe seeds? How could I incorporate the summer’s sweetest peach into a gingery glaze for chicken? What new twist could I put on roast duck that would make the skin so crispy you could hear it crackle down the hall? My aim was to develop eclectic and innovative delicious food that happened to be kosher.

Shopping bags were replaced by grocery bags as I spent hours behind the counter of some of New York’s finest butchers. Donning an apron, I would carefully watch the butcher turn cuts of beef into works of art. I drooled over the fatty cap that rests atop the prime rib oozing with marbling. I marveled as the butcher ground brisket and chuck to create the juiciest hamburger blend. I questioned every stroke of the knife and every emphatic crash of the cleaver until I felt assured that I knew exactly how to expertly prepare the meat I was toting home. I returned from my visits with the same glow others get from an amazing facial.

I am now a veritable walking encyclopedia of bits of information about kosher cuts of meat. Invite me to a dinner party and I will regale you with cooking tips, wine suggestions and cookware advice. Want to hear how to best sear a duck breast or grill a juicy rib-eye? I’m your girl. And because I do love meat and potatoes, I can tell you how to turn Yukon golds into pareve mashed potatoes so creamy you want to take a nap in the bowl. My on-off switch is usually on, but a soft kick under the table or a gentle hand on my knee, tells me to change the conversation and save my riveting news about short ribs for another time.

Over the next few days I want to take you along on my culinary journey as I navigate the world of cookbook writing. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Moroccan Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate Sauce

Lamb shanks are rich, meaty, and succulent as the layer of fat that envelopes each shank bastes them while they cook.  This Moroccan version features aromatic spices, which blend to give the shanks a punchy taste, while never overpowering their natural flavor. The addition of pomegranate juice brings a subtle sweet tart flavor to the sauce.

Behind the Counter  The singular taste of lamb shanks really has no equal. Alternate cuts  short ribs (+$) or osso buco (+$) or even turkey drumsticks cut osso buco style (-$)

About 4 servings

Start to Finish  Under 3 hours

 4 (12 – to- 16-ounce) lamb shanks

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

6 cloves garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 dozen juniper berries

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup sweet red wine

2 cups beef stock

1 cup pomegranate juice (derived from the seeds of 1 large or 2 medium pomegranates), or 1 cup bottled juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Season the shanks with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a braising pot and brown the shanks, over medium to high heat, on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Be sure to stand the shanks on the edges to brown all sides.  Remove the shanks and cook and stir the onion and garlic, over medium heat, until lightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spices, tomato paste, wine and stock.  Stir over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the shanks to the pot cover and roast at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Check the shanks every 30 minutes, turning them over in the sauce each time you check and admire them.  While the lamb cooks, Process the pomegranate seeds if starting from scratch (see feedback), otherwise take a well deserved break.

When the lamb is nearly cooked, after 1½ hours, add the pomegranate juice.  Continue cooking 30 minutes longer or until the meat on the shank is buttery soft and nearly falling off the bone. When finished, the sauce will be thick and concentrated (you can thin it with a little water or stock if needed). Spoon the sauce over the shanks and serve alongside rice, noodles or couscous.


While pomegranates are loaded with antioxidants, their real power is to stain anything porous they come in contact with.  If you are working with fresh pomegranates, I applaud your initiative.  Late fall, October and November is the best time to buy fresh pomegranates, when they burst off the shelves with ripe seeds.  Here are some tips for handling this persnickety fruit.

1. Wear something that can take a joke, you could end up looking like a victim from Law and Order, stained with red splatters

2. Cut, then squeeze the pomegranates over a bowl so you don’t lose any of the precious juice.  There is additional juice in the tiny seeds.  To juice those, fill a bowl with water, with your fingers gently loosen the seeds, over the bowl, and separate them from the papery membrane.  The seeds will fall to the bottom of the bowl, while the thin fiber will float. Strain the water, reserving the seeds.

3. Pulverize most of the seeds in a blender (reserve a few for garnish). Strain the liquid pressing on the solids to extract all the juice. Discard the solids.  Between the squeezed juice and the pureed seeds, you should have about ¾ – to- 1- cup of fresh juice from 1 large or 2 medium pomegranates.

Alternatively, you can buy pomegranate juice.  It’s cleaner, easier but not nearly as much fun!

Check back all week for more posts and recipes from June Hersh.