A Sunday Feast – Slow Roast Lamb

I was going to share this recipe with you yesterday, but then I ended up doing instead of writing. Eddie and I had some friends over for lunch and I broke my cardinal rule and made something I’d never cooked before, which is generally a bad idea. Of course you will know that it worked out just fine, otherwise I’d have kept very quiet about it. I’m not quite sure why, but I really wanted to do a fully cooked (yup, that’s well-done) leg of lamb stuffed with livers, pistachios, lots of garlic and my favourite ras el hanout spice mix. More about that one later and if you’re thinking to abandon this recipe because you don’t have ras el hanout, don’t! Be a little creative and make a spice mix you like. I’m giving you some tips in the note below just in case you’re suffering from cooker’s block.

I used a leg of lamb, but you could just as well use a boneless shoulder. Just make sure your lamb has some fat on it, or it might turn out dry and horrible. Don’t balk at the long roasting time, you’ll thank me when you try the dish. Now I’m not sure how to say this with any humility at all, so I’m not even going to try; it was fantastic! Wonderful, deep flavours, lots of self generated sauce and a roast that literally melts in your mouth. Four of us ate the entire 1.6kg leg. And that’s the weight before the stuffing has gone in.

I produced quite a menu. In hindsight one of the vegetable dishes would have been enough, especially since I really didn’t have enough oven to bake all the things at the same time! Fortunately all the sides are quite forgiving, so they don’t object to being made in advance and then reheated.

Roast peppers, zucchini gratin with mint, rosemary garlic super potatoes.

I”m going to give you the recipes for these side dishes one by one over the next few days. I posted the zucchini gratin before, (Roast Rack of Lamb) but in this version the mint replaces the basil and because we have so much garlic in everything, I’ve omitted it here. Anyway, here’s this version Zucchini Gratin. And if you want to make A Beautiful Tray of Roast Peppers fit for a Sunday Feast, just click on it. Last, but definitely not least, there is my recipe for the best potatoes I can muster. I’ve posted a version of it before, but this is a bit more complete More Tales of the Super Potato.

Let’s get started:

Slow Roast Leg of Lamb with Chicken Livers, Pistachios and Basil

For the Stuffing:
It may not look great, but it smells and tastes wonderful.
  • 200g chicken livers, cleaned weight
  • 150g brown onions, finely sliced
  • 25g garlic, roughly chopped
  • 25g pistachios, chopped
  • 50g couscous
  • 25g raisins, chopped
  • 1 handful basil leaves, julienned
  • 50ml good olive oil
  • 150ml water or light chicken stock

Start by making your stuffing. This will need to cool down completely before you can stuff the lamb. I like to make this a day in advance, so the lamb has time to take on the flavour and also, it’s just easier to have the lamb all done and tied up, so you can just sear it and get the thing into the oven.

Make sure the livers are perfectly cleaned, then chop them by hand into a rough mince. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pot and fry the onions at medium heat for 3 minutes. They should be soft, but not browned. Now add the garlic and fry for another minute, or until the garlic is just starting to brown. Now add the pistachios and just stir in for 30 seconds, then add the ras el hanout and fry for another minute. add the couscous and pour in the stock or water. Stir until the mixture has absorbed most of the liquid and turn off the heat. Add in the chopped raisins and the basil julienne, mix in and leave to cool. Don’t worry if the couscous doesn’t feel all cooked through, it will soften while the mix cools.

For the Lamb:
  • 1 boneless leg of lamb, about 1.6kg
  • 1 Tbsp ras al hanouth spice mix (see Note)
  • salt & black pepper
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • one quantity of stuffing
  • olive oil for frying
  • 25g butter
  • 25g flour

Now this is a little more complicated than the stuff I normally write about and that’s mostly because of the stuffing. A leg of lamb has an unwieldy shape and to get it to form a nice, relatively even roll, you will need to trim some of the muscle to flatten it. Start by taking it out of the net it comes in and laying it flat on you chopping board. Trim down the most obviously thick parts to get one more or less even, flatter piece of meat. Keep trying to roll it to see how the shape will be. Don’t worry too much of there are some holes in it and some of the stuffing falls out. Once it is tied and fried, you will still be left with enough stuffing to give you a nice flavour.

Salt and pepper the lamb generously on both sides. Now cut about 8 lengths of string and lay them out on your chopping board. Place the lamb fat side down on the strings. Spread all the stuffing over the lamb as evenly as you can, then roll it up. You may want to enlist the help of your partner or of a friend, which will make your life a lot easier. Tie the strings relatively tight. Not so tight that the stuffing is squeezed out, but tight enough to hold it all in shape. Chill the finished lamb roll covered in cling film overnight in your chiller.

You will need a cast iron “Dutch Oven”, preferably an oval one, as it holds the lamb roll much better than a round one. But you got to use what you have, so a larger round pot will work, if that’s what you have. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, an oven-proof glass one should do the trick.

In praise of cast iron. Here’s my oval Staub Dutch Oven. Perfect to cook the lamb roll in!

The roast will be in the oven for 4½ hours, so time your lunch or dinner well. It’s quite forgiving, but I would recommend you don’t extend the time the roast is waiting in the oven by more than 20 minutes maximum.

Fry your lamb to a nice brown colour on all sides. The lamb will not take any additional colour from the roasting, so what you see here once you’ve fry it is what you’ll get! Some of the stuffing will fall out and some of it may burn in the frying process, but as long as you don’t get any burnt bits stuck on your lamb, there’s no need to worry. Once your lamb is beautifully browned, take it out and put it into your lightly oiled Dutch oven. You can leave the lamb in there at room temperature until you want to start the roasting. It will happily sit there for a few hours.

The Roasting:

Heat your oven to 120º-125ºC. This is not going to be easy, as most ovens don’t really like low heat, so I recommend you try this well in advance and if at all possible, use an oven thermometer. Pour the chicken stock over the lamb and heat the pot with the lid on until the stock is starting to boil and the lid feels warm. Now put your Dutch oven into the, well, the oven, close the door and monitor the temperature for the next half hour. You’re better off with a slightly lower than a slightly higher temperature, so avoid sudden bursts of heat. Once the oven is steadily at the right heat, you can relax.

The lamb doesn’t need turning or basting or being interfered with in any way. Just leave it in there to stew in its own juices. And while it’s doing that, make your “beurre manié”. Let the 25g butter come to room temperature, mix 25g flour into it and put the whole thing back in the chiller. You will be using this to lightly thicken your sauce.

After four and a half hours, your pot will be filled with delicious sauce and a beautiful melt in the mouth lamb roll. Remove the lamb from the pot and put it on a carving board. Remove all the strings, but don’t carve the lamb! Heat the sauce without straining and add some of the beurre manié. Do this little by little. You will probably not need all the beurre manié, because you’re aiming for a lightly thickened sauce, not a pot of stodge. Carve the lamb into thickish slices at the table and serve straight away.

For the Yoghurt Sauce:
  • 200ml Greek style yoghurt
  • 1½ Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1½ Tbsp chopped pistachios
  • ½ Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 30ml good olive oil
  • salt
  • sugar

Rolling and tying the lamb might be a little more difficult, but making the sauce that goes with it could not be easier if it tried. Spread the yoghurt in a shallow dish. Gently heat the olive oil in a saucepan. I like to add the garlic before the oil is hot, so that the oil doesn’t overheat and lose its lovely flavour. Once the garlic is lightly brown add the pistachios. You want the pistachios to be just slightly chopped, not reduced to powder. Heat for another minute, then spoon the garlic and pistachios out of the oil and pour them over the yoghurt. Whatever oil sticks to the garlic and pistachio will only enhance the sauce, so don’t strain the solids out.

Reheat the oil just a little and add the smoked paprika. Turn off the heat. The paprika should sizzle lightly when you add it, but make sure not to burn it. The oil should turn a deep red. Leave to cool a little, then spoon over the yoghurt and you’re done.

NOTE:          If you have problems finding ras el hanout, you can make it yourself. I always make mine, and even though it’s a bit time consuming because of all the different spices you need to have, it gives by far the best result. Alternatively, you could replace it with something completely different. Nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice will work. So will coriander, fennel and ginger, with or without a pinch of chili powder. But for the brave, here is the recipe for my version of Ras el Hanout:

For the Ras el Hanout Spice Mix:
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp whole green cardamom
  • 1 hand of dried mace (meaning one whole mace nest)
  • 2 sticks Sri Lankan cinnamon
  • ½ Tbsp allspice seeds
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 heaped tsp turmeric
  • ½ Tbsp black peppercorns
  • ½ Tbsp white peppercorns
  • ½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ Tbsp fennel seeds
  • 8 cloves

It’s a lot of things, I know, but the story goes that the spice merchant who came up with it simply assembled all the best spices he had in the shop and mixed them all together. Here’s the best way to do it, in my not entirely humble opinion:

Heat a dry stainless steel pan. Do not use a non-stick pan. The coating doesn’t like heating up without any oil and you will damage the pan. So go steel or cast iron. Put all the whole spices, including the mace and cinnamon into the pan and toast them until the mace has changed colour and the whole thing is nice and fragrant. This will take about 5 minutes and has two advantages; you will concentrate the flavours and your spices will become more brittle, so they will be easier to grind.

She ain’t no looker, but boy can she run!

Once the spices have cooled down a bit, put them into a blender and process dry. Not all grinders can do this. If you are lucky enough to have an amazingly efficient, but dreadfully ungainly Panasonic grinder, use the small bowl and it will make short shrift of the grinding. Now all you need is to add the powdered spices, mix it all together and store it in an airtight jar until you need it.

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