I think I have written before about Melvin's pork (although I can't find the post). Melvin is our friendly, local, slightly erratic small holder. A couple of weeks before Christmas, the Husband rang Melvin to inquire about the availability of logs for the woodburner. During the course of the conversation, Melvin let slip that the lamb that he and the Husband had discussed some months previously was about to be butchered. We had all but given up on getting a lamb this year. A week before Christmas, realistically, we had neither budget nor freezer space for a butchered lamb, but these opportunities do not come along everyday, and before I knew it, Melvin was on my doorstep with the lamb, and the freezer is now creaking.
Fast forward to last Sunday and we have friends for lunch and a shoulder of said lamb out of the freezer. What to do, what to do? Faced with the meat, I had a crisis. Slow roast or conventional cook? English traditional or something more adventurous?
Much as I love the traditional English pairing of lamb with garlic and rosemary, my time in the South of France, on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border, has made me a huge fan of the 'merguez' flavours from North Africa. I have fond memories of barbecued merguez sausage - spicy and piquant: chilli, harissa, garlic, perhaps fennel, cumin and coriander...
Lamb as good as Melvin's already has a fantastic flavour, but it was too much of an opportunity, and 'adventurous' (if Sunday lunch could ever really be called adventurous? I don't know. Humour me) won out, although I kept the chilli down as a nod to the the less mature palates at the table.
The only thing you really need to know about this is that it does need about 4 hours in total to cook, so get in the kitchen early, but then you have the luxury of just leaving it to do its thing while you get on with other stuff.
Slow roast merguez shoulder of lamb
1 shoulder of lamb (bone in) - 2 kg will feed 4 adults and 4 kids, possibly with leftovers
1 tsp each cumin seed, coriander seed, fennel seed & black peppercorns
1 cinammon stick, broken into pieces
1 tsp smoked paprika
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large sprigs of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
zest of a lemon, finely grated
2 tbsp olive oil
1 glass of red wine
1/2 glass water
First, pre-heat your oven to 220C and score the skin of your shoulder of lamb. While the oven is heating, make your paste: toast the seeds (cumin, coriander, fennel and peppercorns) and cinammon stick in a dry frying pan over a medium heat for a minute or so. Bash up the toasted spices with the paprika, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest
and mix with the olive oil, then smear half of the resulting paste over the scored lamb (which you have, of course, put in an appropriately sized roasting tin. (If you were more organised than me, you could of course make the paste and smear the lamb the night before).
Put the meat in the hot oven for 30 mins, after which, remove from the oven, and smear the remaining spice paste over the meat - use a wooden spoon or somesuch to do this. Pour the wine and water into the tin around the meat (but NOT over the meat - you don't want to wash that paste off), then cover the joint with tin foil, seal it round the tin and put it back in the oven. Reduce the heat to 130C, and cook for about 3 hours, when it will be easy to pull apart, and taste delicious.
In my usual haphazard fashion, I made a gravy from the juices, some sherry and the water that I'd parboiled the parsnips in. We had whole roasted new potatoes (from last summer's crop - still going strong in a thick (and large) paper bag), parsnips (also homegrown) roasted with honey, rosemary and ground cumin, and steamed carrots and leeks. The great thing about home grown veg is the opportunity for amusingly-shaped specimens, and I'm sorry, but I can 't resist showing you this potato (snigger)
Haphazard gravy and comedy potatoes aside, this is a really fantastic way of roasting lamb. Hugh suggests roasting at a slightly lower temperature for longer (6 hours) but by the time I was contemplating what to do, a 6 hour roast would have meant eating at around 3 in the afternoon - no good when small children are involved. Also, I have done a longer roast and for me it hasn't turned out quite so well, although I added more liquid to the roasting tin this time than I have previously, so may be that helped. It's a method of cooking that lends itself to fiddling around, and because it's at a low temperature, there's less chance of ruining the meat by overcooking.
We had a fabulous afternoon, a lazy lunch then we sent the kids outside to build an igloo while the grown ups stayed firmly ensconced around the table with the wine. As we got our snow on Friday, and had already had plenty of opportunities for sledging and snowballing, what better way to spend a snowy Sunday afternoon?