Persian Style Lamb Shanks in Tomato Sauce with Prunes & Fried Potatoes

Lamb shanks are really full of flavour and very tender when properly cooked. I don’t eat meat very often but once in a while I really crave falling-off-the bone lamb shanks.

So when I saw some beautiful shanks at the butcher’s recently I was inspired to make my simple slow-cooked lightly spiced lamb shanks with prunes, again, and with rice of course because I’m Persian and Persians have a serious love affair with rice!

If you aren’t a big fan of rice you can serve these shanks with saffron-flavoured mashed potatoes and a tangy green salad like my herby, garlicky, lemony romaine lettuce salad. In this case you can skip the fried potato cubes.

To make saffron mashed potatoes all you need to do is add a bit of ground saffron soaked in a tablespoon of warm milk for a couple of minutes to your mashed potatoes. The difference just a little saffron makes is unbelievable!

Fresh lamb shanks
Fresh lamb shanks trimmed of all fat for a more delicate flavour

Prunes are rather sweet and I don’t like this dish particularly sweet so I only add a few to give a bit of zing and sweetness to the sauce.  I like to strain the sauce after the shanks are cooked through a sieve so the sauce has a smooth silky texture but if that’s too much hassle you can skip that stage. It will be just as delicious and no one will be any wiser!

Lamb shanks are quite underrated because without proper slow-cooking they won
Lamb shanks are quite underrated because unlike steak they require long slow cooking for tenderness and maximum flavour.

The sauce for the shanks in this recipe is very delicately spiced. Just a little turmeric, a bay leaf, a few cloves of garlic and some peppercorns (that you will discard later). Turmeric is a wonder spice and the base of most Persian spice mixes. It is believed to have lots of health benefits. You can add other spices according to your preference if you like a stronger spicy flavour. A bit of cinnamon, a little cumin, a hint (or a lot) of chilli powder, paprika all would be quite nice. Just be brave and do your own thing!

Fresh and dried turmeric. Turmeric is the most used spice in Persian cooking.
Fresh and dried turmeric. Turmeric is the most used spice in Persian cooking.

The day I made these shanks I also made a spiced rice dish from Tabriz. That’s where my parents came from. The dish is called adviyeh polo in Persian (or aduva pilo as they pronounced it in their native Azarbaijani language. Aduva pilo is a perfect side to these shanks. It’s delicately perfumed with cinnamon, allspice, cumin, rose petals, cardamom, saffron and a few other spices. Plain rice is excellent too.

Tomato, cucumber and onion salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice is a lovely accompaniment if you are serving the shanks with rice. If serving with mashed potatoes a crisp green herby lemony salad will be better.
Tomato, cucumber and onion salad dressed with olive oil and lemon juice is a lovely accompaniment if you are serving the shanks with rice. If serving with mashed potatoes a crisp green herby lemony salad will be better.

Like most Persian cooks I rarely use the oven for Persian dishes. Instead I use the hob. I slow-cooked the shanks on very low heat on the hob but you can use a slow-cooker if you wish. Put the shanks in after searing with all the other ingredients and leave it there for as long as eight hours.

For the shallow-fried potato cubes you can use any kind of potato that you normally use for making chips or fries. I used “dirty potatoes”. They fried to a gorgeous golden colour and tasted fabulous. Were crispy too.

To serve two people you will need the following ingredients:

For the shanks:

  • 2 small lamb shanks
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or extra virgin rapeseed oil)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp whole green or black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree (or as required)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 pitted prunes or Persian plums (alu)

For the shallow-fried potatoes

  • 2 medium or 1 large potatoes, washed and cut into cubes
  • Extra-virgin rapeseed oil for shallow-frying
  • A few parsley leaves for garnish (finely chopped)


  1. Trim all the fat from the shanks. Put one tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan big enough to hold both of the shanks. Brown the shanks all around on medium heat, sprinkling with turmeric halfway through. Remove to a plate.
  2. Add the rest of the oil to the saucepan and sauté the chopped onions until lightly caramelised. Add the peppercorns, garlic and bay leaf. Cook for a minute or two. Return the shanks to the saucepan and cover with enough boiling water to cover the shanks. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat as much as you can. Braise, covered, for at least two hours or until well-cooked.
  3. Remove the shanks and put the broth through a sieve. Discard the pulp and return the shanks to the pot with the tomato puree, salt and prunes. You may need to use more tomato puree than in the recipe as some brands may be less concentrated.
  4. Cover and cook on medium heat until the sauce has reduced by half and the shanks are really falling off the bones. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  5. Meanwhile, dry the cubed potatoes with kitchen paper. In a small saucepan heat about two centimetres of oil on medium heat until it bubbles when you drop a potato cub in it. Increase the heat to medium-high and drop all the cubes in the oil. Add a pinch of salt and stir through. When the oil returns to bubbling lower the heat to medium and wait until the cubes are a little coloured. Stir once again and cook until golden and crispy. Remove the cubes with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  6. Put the shanks in a serving bowl and drizzle with the sauce. Arrange the prunes and potato cubes on and around the shanks and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Enjoy!


  1. Mark Willis | 9th Jan 16

    I like the way you offer adaptations and hints on how to make your dishes easier / more “approachable”. Some people are too obsessed with authenticity!

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