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Sticky-Sour Tamarind Lamb Shanks

Time 3 hours 30 minutes, largely unattended
Yields Serves 4 to 6
Tart tamarind, spicy chiles and heady spices make a flavorful sauce for braised lamb shanks.
Tart tamarind, spicy fresh chiles and loads of heady spices make a flavorful sauce for braised lamb shanks, topped with lime-pickled onions and cilantro.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Rebecca Buenik)
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The distinctive lite-gaminess of lamb finds a perfect partner in the acidity of tamarind paste — purchase it from your local Indian, Mexican, African or Asian grocery stores or online — although the sauce would taste as good on pork or beef shanks, or short ribs.
Inspired by the flavors of Indian tamarind chutney, I use brown sugar and raisins to add sweetness to the fruit sauce while all the spices and chile deepen the umami of the low-and-slow braised meat.
But while we all have nothing but time right now, if you want to shave an hour and a half from the cook time or give your new Instant-Pot a spin, make the lamb shanks per the Variation below.

1

Using your fingers, break the tamarind pulp up into small chunks and place it in a medium bowl. Pour over 4 cups boiling water and let stand until the tamarind softens, at least 20 minutes. Using your hands, squish the tamarind in the water until the pulp breaks down, then pass the pulp through a medium-mesh sieve into another bowl, pressing on the seeds and fibers to extract as much of the pulp as possible; discard the seeds. While the tamarind sauce is still warm, stir in the brown sugar, raisins and paprika.

2

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

3

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. Working in batches, if necessary, add the shanks to the pot and cook, turning as needed, until golden brown all over, about 18 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the shanks to a plate and pour out all the fat, leaving behind only any fat that naturally sticks to the pot.

4

Add the mustard and fennel seeds, yellow onion and halved chile to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mustard seeds start popping and the onion is just browned at the edges, about 4 minutes. Pour in the tamarind mixture and stir to scrape the bottom of the pot. Return the shanks to the pot, turning them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then cover and place in the oven. Bake for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat can be easily pulled from the bones with a spoon.

5

While the lamb bakes, make the pickled onions: In a small bowl, toss together the lime juice and onion and refrigerate, tossing every few minutes, for at least 15 minutes or while the lamb cooks.

6

When the lamb is ready, remove it from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Uncover and serve the lamb directly from the pot, spooning some sauce over each portion. Add the cilantro to the pickled onions, season with salt and pepper, and toss until evenly combined. Scatter the cilantro and onions over each serving of lamb to serve.

Variations:
Instant-Pot Lamb Shanks: Make the tamarind paste as instructed but use only 2 cups of water since there will be no evaporation to reduce it naturally once in the cooker. Make the recipe as instructed above but using the “sear” function of the multipurpose cooker instead of a pot on the stove. After adding the tamarind paste, close the cooker, set the pressure to normal and cook the shanks for 50 minutes. Once done, allow the pressure to release naturally, then uncover and serve the shanks with the sauce.
Kitchen Note
Tamarind comes in many confusing guises in the grocery store, from various “sauces” and “concentrates” to “pastes” and “pulps.” For this recipe, you want to use a block of pure tamarind pulp — often labeled “wet” and “seedless” even though there are still some pieces of seed and stringy fibers present — which has been processed the least. The block will be wrapped in clear plastic and will feel like firm putty or clay when you squeeze it with your fingers. Do not use tamarind “sauce,” which is already diluted paste with proportions varying from brand to brand, or “concentrate,” which is cooked-down paste with added sugar.
Make Ahead:
The tamarind sauce can be made and stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The cooked shanks and sauce can be stored in an airtight container for up to 4 days.