A leg of lamb is grand… many folk admire the hind quarters of our woolly little friends, and often the front end goes by the wayside. Me? I’ll take a lamb shoulder by preference any day of the week. So much more character, excitement, and richness of flavour. The quick rare roast that is best for a leg isn’t appropriate here however — the shoulder needs time, do it long and sloooow.
My standard lamb flavourings are rosemary and garlic (along with most of the western world I expect). Mint sauce has a special place in my heart, that being on my grandmother’s dining table. The closest I’ll come to a mint sauce at home is a deep rich balsamic with a few shreds of good fresh mint in it. Anchovies too are a favourite friend of the lamb.
However, sometimes I take an entirely different twist on things. Take a more North African direction, at least that’s how I think of it. The basic flavour blueprint is a combination of TANG and WARM SPICE. Tang in this recipe from sumac and lime, warm spice from star anise, coriander, cumin, & cardamom plus a rather spiced ale. What all this adds up to is what I dub “nose porn”, a slow roast that emits the most tantalising flavours while cooking. By the time it is ready you’ll have to restrain yourself lest you vacuum up the delicious flesh before even making it to the dining table, and subsequently lambsplode.
- A shoulder of British lamb
(ensure you have a baking tin it fits in!)
- 3 tablespoons of oil
(I used Avo oil because I’m out of normal oil!)
- 15g (a knob) of fresh ginger
- Zest of a lime (plus a bit of its juice)
- 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
(if using normal salt just use 1 teaspoon)
- 3 teaspoons of sumac
- 1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon of whole cardamom seeds (without the green husk!)
- 330ml bottle of Belgian spiced ale
- Commonly available around Christmas time, these are strong beers infused with various spices — especially star anise. One that I have tried recently that would work well is Affligem Noël.
- I’ve actually used a British rendition of this style: Hardknott Rhetoric #1. This is a star anise infused Belgian-style quad.
- 3 or 4 brown onions
- 1 tablespoon of plain flour
- 2 cloves of garlic — chopped and crushed
Preheat your oven to 250°C.
The nose porn beings immediately! Dry fry the spices. I do this in order from largest to smallest. Get a little frying pan hot and pop in the star anise lobes —1 minute— pop in the coriander seeds —30 seconds— pop in the cardamom seeds —1 minute— pop in the cumin seeds —1 minute— pour the lot into a pestle along with the salt. Grind and then mix in the sumac.
Grate the ginger, zest the lime — nose porn! Combine the ginger and zest with the oil.
Lightly score the top (fat side) of the lamb shoulder. Rub it all over with the oil mix, massage it in — who doesn’t like a good oily shoulder massage? Then coat all over with the dry spice mix. I use a little more on top than on the bottom.
Chop your onions in half, lop off the pointy ends, peel them, and slice lengthwise.
Oil the baking dish — this may have been achieved by using it when oiling the shoulder. Scatter the onion in the base of the baking dish and place the shoulder (top-up) onto the onion.
Place in the oven for a 15 to 25 minute sizzle. Make sure it browns off nicely, but doesn’t burn!
After the sizzle turn the oven temperature down to 120°C and pour the beer into the baking pan. Queue up some suitable music for hot steamy nose porn. Slowly roast for at least three hours, four was about perfect for me. (When done you should pretty much be able to slide a butter knife right through the thick part of the shoulder.)
Remove the shoulder from the roasting dish, pour the juices and onion into a saucepan, put the shoulder back in the roasting dish, cover and keep warm. (Should be fine in the now-turned-off oven.) Use a large kitchen spoon to remove as much fat as you can from the onions into a separate bowl. Then put the saucepan over the heat and reduce until you’re happy with the flavour (if you think it needs reducing at all!). In a different saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of the lamb fat and fry 1 tablespoon of plain flour in the fat until very lightly browned, add the garlic to this and sizzle for about 30 seconds. Now start adding juices from the onions a large spoonful at a time, whisking all the while. When you’ve got about a cup of liquid transferred mix the entirety of the rest of the onions and juices in. Add fresh lime juice and salt, to taste. I added the juice of half a lime, giving the onion gravy a pleasing piquancy.
Carve the lamb at the table, sharing out pieces from the various parts of the shoulder. A lamb shoulder cooked like this makes for so many different flavours and textures. There’s the tasty crisp crust, the juicy internal meat, the unctuous fatty edges, the drier but very tasty meat from the leg, and the soft onion-and-beer infused meat from the underside. Serve a selection of these different meat experiences on a plate with a generous helping of onion & ale gravy… and enjoy.
Serve with side dishes of your choice. A bit of steamed cabbage in my case.