Skip to content

Saffron Lamb Shanks: Traditional and Sophisticated Dish

Persian Saffron Lamb Shanks, known as Mayche, is a traditional and sophisticated dish that embodies the rich culinary heritage of Iran. This dish is meticulously prepared using lamb shanks, a cut of meat known for its tenderness and flavour when cooked slowly. This recipe is prepared with an array of spices including cinnamon, turmeric, white and black pepper, 7-spice powder, cardamom, and notably, saffron, which imparts a distinctive taste and a vibrant golden hue to the dish.

The lamb shanks are coated with a flour and spice mix, then seared to achieve a browned crust.  It is then braised with saffron and rosewater to enhance the meat’s flavour and tenderness. Honey serves as both as a meat tenderizer while adding subtle floral and sweet notes, complementing the rich and complex spice profile.

Typically, this dish is served with Baghali Polo, a fragrant Persian rice dish made with dill and broad beans, offering a perfect balance of flavours and textures. The combination of the rich, spiced meat of the Mayche and the herby freshness of Baghali Polo creates a harmonious and satisfying meal that is often featured in festive and special occasions, showcasing the elegance and depth of Persian cuisine.

Basic Ingredients for Saffron Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shanks:

Lamb Shanks: The star of the dish, lamb shanks are chosen for their rich flavour and tender texture when slow-cooked. The meat’s connective tissue breaks down over time, resulting in succulent and flavorful meat.

Salt: Enhances the flavours of the other ingredients and seasons the lamb shanks.

All-purpose Flour: Used to coat the lamb shanks, it helps in browning the meat and thickening the sauce during cooking.

Cinnamon Powder: Adds a warm, sweet spice note that complements the richness of the lamb.

Turmeric Powder: Provides a vibrant color and a bitter, earthy flavor, which balances the dish’s richness.

White and Black Pepper Powder: These spices add heat and depth, with white pepper offering a more subtle flavour compared to the more pungent black pepper.

7-Spice Powder: A blend of spices that introduces complexity and a multitude of flavours to the dish, enhancing its overall taste profile.

Cardamom Powder: Contributes a sweet, floral aroma and a spicy-sweet flavour, adding another layer of complexity.

Ground Saffron: The key ingredient that gives the dish its distinctive aroma and a beautiful golden colour, along with a subtle earthy flavour.

Rose Water: Adds a floral note, complementing the rich and savoury flavours of the lamb and spices.

Vegetable Oil: Used for searing the meat and sautéing the onions, providing a cooking medium and contributing to the dish’s overall flavour.

Onions: Offer sweetness and depth, becoming a foundational flavour element in the dish.

Bay Leaf and Cinnamon Stick: These whole spices infuse the dish with their unique aromas and flavours during the cooking process.

Honey: Adds a touch of sweetness, balancing the savoury and spiced elements of the dish.

alternative ingredients

Cornstarch: A gluten-free alternative to flour for coating the meat.

Brown sugar: can be used as an alternative to honey

Nutmeg or Clove: Can be used as alternatives or additions to cardamom for a different spice note.

Chicken or Beef Broth: Instead of water, to add more depth to the sauce.

Preparation Tips for Saffron Lamb Shanks

  • Meat Preparation:
    • Ensure the lamb shanks are thoroughly cleaned and patted dry. This helps the seasoning and flour adhere better and aids in achieving a good sear.
    • Allow the lamb shanks to come to room temperature before cooking to ensure even cooking.
  • Seasoning and Flouring:
    • Season the lamb shanks generously with salt before coating them with the flour and spice mixture. This initial seasoning helps to build layers of flavour.
    • When mixing the flour and spices, ensure they are well combined for an even coating on the lamb shanks. A uniform coat helps in developing a consistent crust and flavour profile.
  • Searing the Lamb:
    • Heat the oil in the cast iron pot until it’s hot but not smoking. A proper sear starts with hot oil, which ensures the meat doesn’t stick and develops a rich brown crust.
    • Don’t overcrowd the pot when searing the lamb shanks. Searing them in batches, if necessary, prevents the temperature from dropping and ensures a good sear.
  • Cooking the Onions:
    • Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent before adding the spices. This step is crucial as it forms the flavour base for the dish.
    • Be careful not to burn the onions or spices. Burnt onions or spices can introduce a bitter taste to the dish.
  • Braising the Lamb:
    • Once the lamb shanks are added back to the pot with the onions and spices, ensure they are well-coated with the mixture before adding the liquid.
    • The liquid should cover the lamb shanks.
  • Simmering:
    • The key to tender lamb shanks is slow cooking at a low simmer. Rushing this process can result in tough meat.
    • Check the pot occasionally to ensure the liquid isn’t reducing too quickly. If it is, add a bit more water to prevent burning.
  • Finishing Touches:
    • Taste the sauce once the lamb is tender and adjust the seasoning if necessary. The final seasoning adjustment is crucial for a well-balanced dish.
    • If the sauce is too thin, you can remove the lamb shanks and reduce the sauce to the desired consistency before serving.

Serving Tips for Saffron Lamb Shanks

  • Accompaniments: Serve with Baghali Polo for a traditional pairing. Garnish with fresh herbs or a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds for added color and flavor.
  • Presentation: Plate the shanks with some of the cooking liquid and a side of rice, ensuring to showcase the meat’s tenderness.

storage tips

Refrigeration: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Freezing: Freeze in airtight containers for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Reheating: Gently reheat on the stove or in the oven, adding a little water or broth if the sauce has thickened too much.

Saffron Lamb Shanks

Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours


  • 6 lamb shanks
  • salt
  • 6 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper powder
  • 3 tsp 7 spice powder
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • a pinch of ground saffron
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • vegetable oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp honey


  • Wash and pat dry the lamb shanks. Season with salt. Prepare the dry mixture by mixing the flour, cinnamon powder, turmeric powder, white pepper powder, black pepper powder and 7-spice powder.Generously coat each lamb shank with the dry mixture.
  • Grind a pinch of saffron threads in a small mortar and pestle. Add the saffron, rose water, cardamom powder to a ¼ cup of boiling water; mix and keep to the side.
  • In a large cast iron pot, heat some vegetable oil and sear each lamb shank until all sides have browned. Set lamb shanks aside.
  • Wipe the cast iron pot clean, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and add the onions, bay leaf and the cinnamon stick. Sauté on medium heat until the onion slices turn translucent in colour. Add the honey, and stir together for a couple of minutes. Add the browned lamb shanks, the saffron mixture and top with water, enough to cover the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil; reduce heat, cover and leave to simmer on low heat for 75–90 minutes. The longer you allow the meat to cook on low heat, the more your meat will become succulent and tender.

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @cookingwithzahra on Instagram and hashtag it #cookingwithzahra so we can see all the deliciousness!

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating


Get new recipes, meal planners, and creative entertaining ideas