Spiced 7-hour Lamb with Baba Ghannoush
This is an update on one of my favourite ways of cooking lamb, slow-cooked to fork-tenderness. Massaging the lamb with a spicy rub adds flavour and also gives the lamb an appetising colour. You can use a shoulder of lamb, but a leg is less fatty. Start it the day before you want to serve it. Read all the tips about why that makes it easier below.
Ingredients - Dry Rub
- 1 tsp ras el hanout
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- Finely grated zest 1 lemon
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp flaky sea salt
Ingredients - Lamb
- 2.5-2.6kg leg of lamb
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 carrots, peeled, trimmed and quartered
- 2 sticks celery, cut into thirds
- Few sprigs thyme
- 300ml dry white wine
- 300ml unsalted light stock
1 Mix dry rub ingredients together. Trim lamb of excess fat and place it in a dish. Rub the spices into the lamb on all sides. Cover lamb and leave at room temperature for up to 1 hour or refrigerate overnight but bring to room temperature for 1 hour before cooking.
2 Choose a casserole which is big enough to hold the lamb and one that can go over an element, (or cook lamb in a heavy-duty roasting dish and use a double thickness of heavy-duty tin foil as a lid). Heat oil in casserole dish over a medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the leg of lamb rounded side face down. Cook at a good sizzle, turning heat to medium, until a good golden brown, taking care not to burn the spices. Turn and cook the lamb on all sides as best you can. Carefully transfer the lamb to a plate. Pour off the accumulated fat in the dish and wipe dish clean with paper towels. Return lamb to the dish and sprinkle with any loose spices.
3 Add onions, carrots and celery, positioning them around the sides of the lamb. Pour round the wine and stock (don’t pour it over the top or you will wash off all the seasoning). Season the lamb generously with salt and strew the top with thyme sprigs. Cover casserole with a lid then transfer to the centre of an oven preheated to 130°C. Leave lamb to cook undisturbed for 7 hours.
4 Remove lamb to a heated serving plate and cover with foil while finishing off the dish. The vegetables will be extremely tender, but still delicious, so serve them separately if you wish. Tilt the casserole, leave it for a minute or two, then scoop off the fat, or if you have one of those fat separator jugs, pour the stock into it. Moisten lamb with some of the juices and serve remaining juices in a heated jug (a fat separating jug lets the stock flow out through a low spout while keeping the layer of fat above it). Serve while piping hot.
Baba ghanoush is a creamy eggplant and tahini dip sharpened with lemon and garlic. The eggplant is first charred in hot ashes, or in flames, which gives the dip a deeply smoky flavour which suits the eggplant’s rich flesh. Not many of us have a wood fire burning at the ready, but you can get a good effect by charring the eggplant in the flames of a gas ring or over a gas barbecue grill, then transferring the eggplant to the oven to cook through until tender.
- 1 large (about 400g) eggplant
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little sea salt
- ½ tsp salt
- ⅓ cup tahini paste (sesame paste)
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1-2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Extra virgin olive oil and smoked paprika for garnishing (not required when serving with the lamb)
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Wash and dry eggplant and prick all over with a fine skewer to prevent it bursting during cooking. If you use gas for cooking, or a gas barbecue, place the eggplant in the flames of the gas and cook for several minutes until blackened all over, turning with tongs. Put eggplant on oven rack, placing a sheet of tin foil underneath to catch any drips, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender. Alternatively, cook in the oven for 45 minutes, or until tender (you won’t develop a smoky flavour this way). Remove eggplant from oven and cool.
2 Cut eggplant in half, pour off excess liquid and scoop out all the pulp, discarding flecks of blackened skin as these will impart a burnt flavour. Chop pulp finely, pour off excess liquid again, then transfer to a bowl. Add garlic, salt and tahini paste. Beat to a smooth purée with a wooden spoon, then blend in lemon juice and most of the parsley. Cover and refrigerate until required (baba ghanoush can be made 1-2 days before serving). Taste before serving, adding more salt or lemon if required, and garnish with reserved parsley.
I highly recommend you cook this the day before you want to serve it, and here’s why: dinner will be cooked, and that’s a plus! But more importantly, chilling the lamb after cooking will allow the fat to settle on top of the juices where it will set in the cold and can then be scooped or scraped off. It improves the dish immensely.
Here’s what I did for my recent birthday feast. I cooked the lamb ahead as I’ve just and the next day I took the fat off. I was then able to remove some of the bones so it would then fit in a slow cooker. In fact, I was able to fit two legs of lamb in a slow cooker. Guests were invited for noon. All I had to do was let the lamb legs gently heat and bubble away in the slow cooker for 2 hours. There isn’t an easier way of serving a fabulous hot meat dish to a crowd.
To make it even more special, I served the lamb on baba ghanoush - charred eggplant purée - and topped the lot with pomegranate seeds.
If time is a bit short, cook the lamb for 5 hours only, cool it quickly, and finish off the next day as described (remove fat, remove big bones and finish cooking in the oven or in a slow cooker). Why not do the whole thing in a slow cooker? A leg of lamb will not fit, though a shoulder will. Both cuts need browning first to make them appetising, and they need excess fat removed (especially the shoulder), then cooking, chilling, de-fatting and gentle reheating, to be successful. Importantly, slow-cooked lamb needs to be served PIPING HOT, on a hot plate, with everyone ready to tuck in as soon as it is served.