With Spring officially underway and Easter approaching my thoughts turn to new season's lamb for entertaining family and friends. My default dish is lamb 'boulangère' whereby you slow cook a shoulder or leg on a bed of herbs, stock and sliced potatoes but, in an effort to ring the changes, I have been experimenting with lamb with North African spices or 'Ras el hanout' to use the vernacular.
Ras el hanout roughly translates as 'head of the shop' or 'best in the house' and will typically be a blend of twenty or more spices including cardamom, dried peppers, cloves, fennel, nutmeg and lavender. It is readily available on the high street and, as with Garam Masala in India, is widely deployed as a universal seasoning.
For this recipe I use a boned shoulder of lamb, or two if we have guests, and I lightly score it with a sharp knife to a depth of about 1 centimetre before liberally coating it in the ras el hanout mix. I also add several cloves of chopped garlic, some crushed chillies, and a good drizzle of olive oil before storing it overnight in a container in the fridge.
The following day I take the lamb out of the fridge a good hour before cooking, preheat the oven to 160°, and then place the joint in a casserole dish with the lid tightly sealed with tin foil and put it in the oven. I give that 90 minutes (turning the joint over half-way through) before adding 2-3 glasses of wine and / or vegetable stock and cooking for another 90 minutes. It then needs to rest somewhere warm for about 20 minutes before serving.
After cooking the joint should be tender and crusty and considerably smaller than it was at the outset. There should be sufficient liquid in the pot to accompany the meat. You can serve it with harissa roast potatoes and / or couscous 'jewelled' with pomegranate seeds, green beans or broccoli and some yoghurt with chopped mint.
There could not be a more apposite wine accompaniment than this month's 'Tandem' – Syrah du Maroc made by our old friend Alain Graillot.