A culinary oddity from Jamaica, these orange braised lamb shanks blend Caribbean flavours with European technique. But the real question is, where the hell did they come from?
When I first stumbled upon this recipe, I was sure that the ‘Port Royal’ referred to some illustrious hotel akin to Ortiz’s recipe for Trident Pumpkin Soup. As far as I can tell, however, no such hotel exists. So, what is Port Royal? Once dubbed the “wickedest city on Earth,” Port Royal was a major pirate hub during the 1600s and one of the liveliest, affluent, and hedonistic cities in Jamaica until the earthquake of 1692 devastated the city. I won’t go into too much detail on the history of Port Royal, only to say that if you’re interested in pirates and the history of early colonial Caribbean, there are a plethora of books and articles you can turn to learn more about it, like this one here from Allthatsinteresting.com.
Today, as in the late 60s when Ortiz was writing “The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking,” Port Royal is a dilapidated, run down, tourist oddity. It seems unlikely (although not out of the realm of possibility) that Ortiz’s recipe originated at Port Royal. More likely, the title of ‘Port Royal’ was a nod to that port’s importance as a British import hub for meats like mutton, lamb, and veal. It is my suspicion that this dish was served at one of Jamaica’s hotels, probably John Macy’s Trident Villas & Hotel at Port Antonio. Considering there is another recipe in the book titled Port Antonio Beefsteak that also blends Caribbean flavours with European techniques, this doesn’t seem far off the mark. It’s easy to imagine that each of these titles were created by the same chef to distinguish between the dishes on the menu, giving them an air of elegance and tradition.
There is certainly no information on the internet that would suggest that Jamaica has a long-standing tradition of pairing orange with lamb. In fact, this recipe truly does stand out as a culinary anomaly. Which leads me to suspect it was a hotel recipe, crafted specifically to please the Western palette.
If anyone knows anything about the origin and history of this dish, I would love to hear it.
But, enough of all that. How does the bloody thing taste? Kind of weird actually. It’s not surprising that this is a forgotten curio of Mid-Century Caribbean cooking. My curiosity was peaked looking at the ingredients: oranges, Angostura bitters, Pickapeppa hot sauce…In my mind, I envisioned a dish that was brimming with herbaceous baking spices and caramelized oranges. The result however was a sauce somewhat akin to a Hollandaise, the orange juice thickened with egg yolks to create a tart, yet fairly bland cream sauce. On top of which, the oranges seemed to be competing with the gamey-ness of the lamb in a way that I found somewhat off putting. The whole dish came across as a kind of concession to upper class Western tourists that fails to convey the vibrancy of authentic Jamaican cuisine. Nevertheless, I had to include it here on the blog as an interesting oddity. And one that has managed to live on sporadically, not just on this blog but also at The Weathered Gray Table and on the menu of the Hotel Strohofer in Germany for a special Caribbean dinner party in 2011.
- 6 small lamb shanks, trimmed
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp vinegar (Caribbean cane if possible)
- Grated peel from 2 oranges
- 6 oranges, juiced
- 1/2 tsp Angostura bitters
- 1/2 tsp Pickapeppa hot sauce
- Chicken stock
- 2 egg yolks
- Season lamb with salt and then heavily coat with black pepper.
- Brown in butter.
- Add bay leaf, vinegar, orange juice, grated orange, Angostura, Pickapeppa sauce, and stock to cover.
- Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove lamb and keep warm.
- Reduce sauce down to 2 cups.
- Temper egg yolks with a little of the hot sauce and then gradually beat into the remaining sauce.
- When thick, pour over lamb and serve.