Spicy lamb and quince stew

What do you do with all the quince? A friend with a quince tree pleaded for a recipe that isn’t membrillo. I agree. Though I don’t have a tree myself, I’ve often been in the (happy) predicament of too many quinces, either because I buy kilos and kilos compulsively as soon as the season hits, or because I’ve received bags from friends’ prolific gardens.

I started playing with a savory lamb and quince tagine-style dish nearly ten years ago when I began writing down recipes on these pages, but was stalled in my attempt by Thomas — ever the culprit — who complained about the various attempts and the repetition, in minute variation, of a dish which he purported not to like. It has taken me all this time to take up where I had left off, and I’m afraid to say the result has met with similar disapproval in the family, this time with children reinforcement. It appears my nearest and dearest do not like the combination of fruit and meat. And it’s not just the quince, I’ve encountered the same resistance with figs or prunes. But I beg to differ. I love the dance of sweet and savoury.

Lamb stews with quince are common in Persian and Moroccan cuisine, which is where I’ve taken inspiration, loosely, for this recipe. Having looked at and tried a number of versions, including the delicately flavoured Iranian stew Khoresht-e Beh with just saffron and turmeric, my preference today is for a dish with more assertive spices. On the question of the quince, however, I am undecided: Some recipes add the raw quince to the stew directly, others suggest to first brown the wedges in butter. I don’t have a stark preference, so I propose both, depending on the cook’s whim, time, and inspiration.

Spicy lamb and quince stew
Serves 6
This stew can be made the same day or one or two days in advance

1 kg (2 lbs) de-boned lamb shoulder, cut into approximately 8 cm (3″) pieces
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
3 medium onions
2-3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp turmeric
Generous pinch saffron threads
Generous pinch Cayenne pepper (to taste)
1/2 cinnamon stick
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
Rind from 1/2 untreated lemon, peeled into a ribbon
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp mild runny honey
3 medium quinces
Butter if using to fry the pieces of quince


Preheat the oven to 125°C (250°F).

Season the pieces of meat with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over high heat, brown the meat in olive oil in batches, a few pieces at a time, for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. **It’s important not to crowd the pan or the meat will stew rather than brown.**

Peel and slice the onions and garlic.

In a heavy, cast-iron dish with a tight fitting lid big enough to hold the stew, add a little olive oil and brown the onions. Season with a good pinch of salt. Once the onions are nicely browned, add the garlic, stir for about a minute, and turn off the heat.

Place the browned lamb onto the onions and garlic, ideally in a single layer, fitting snugly in the pan. Sprinkle the ground cumin, turmeric, saffron, and cayenne over the meat. Add the cinnamon, ginger, lemon rind, and bay leaf to the dish, and the honey in a thin drizzle. Season with salt and pepper. Pour enough water to barely cover the meat, cover with a tight fitting lid (or seal with aluminum foil) and place in the oven.

Cook in the oven at a low simmer for about 1 1/2 hour —>

If the stew is for the same day —> peel and core the quinces and cut them into quarters, add them to the stew (after the 1 1/2 hours), and continue cooking for a further 45 minutes or so until the fruit is tender. Remove from the oven and let settle and cool down for about 15 minutes before serving.

If the stew has been planned a day or two ahead —> remove from the oven, let the meat cool down, and place it in the refrigerator overnight. About 2 hours before the meal, remove the stew from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Peel and core the quinces and cut them into quarters. Add them to the stew. Return the stew to the oven for about 45 minutes until the fruit is tender. Remove from the oven and let settle and cool down for about 15 minutes before serving.

I like to serve this with rice.



One Response to “Spicy lamb and quince stew”

  1. Seasonal | What to do with all the quince | Nettle and Quince Says:

    […]  Spicy lamb and quince stew […]

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