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.
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 Lamb 2.5-2.6kg (about 5½ lb) 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 (10 fl oz) dry white wine 300ml (10 fl oz) 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 (250°F). 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 separater 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.
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. (Recipe coming soon.)
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.