Sunday, March 11, 2012

Slow Roasted Spiced Leg of Lamb

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For a long time I have wanted to try out a recipe for a leg of lamb which has been marinated for 24 hours in a spicy yoghurt sauce, which I spotted in a very unassuming Indian cookbook given to me by the Cookbook Fairy Godmother (my Mum).  The book is called "A Heritage of Indian Cooking" by Joseph Cotta and the reason it had lingered so long, unopened on my bookshelf is - I am ashamed to say - the fact that it has no photos.

I admit it, when looking for foodie inspiration, I usually go straight to the pretty, glossy books with photography so good that you start salivating just looking at the pages.  This book is small, bright orange and has not a picture to be seen.  And I cannot believe I have overlooked it for so long!  I discovered the recipe for "Raan", which the book describes as "a wonderful Sunday treat", while cooking the recipe for black lentil dhal (it's a winner too, and I'll be sure to include it at some stage along the way).  

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In my usual fashion, I took the original recipe and twisted it somewhat, while keeping what I hope is the essence of the original flavours.  For instance, when I made the marinade I didn't have any blanched almonds in the cupboard or fresh ginger in the fridge, so substituted shredded coconut and ground ginger instead.  I also decided that if I was going to go the whole hog (or lamb, so to speak) and marinate the sucker for 24 hours, why stint on the cooking time?  So rather than cook the leg of lamb on the stove top for the 3 hours or so described in the cookbook, I decided to still use a cast-iron casserole pot but instead to pop it in a 170 degree Celcius oven for five hours.  It was well worth the extra time out of my day, as the result was so tender and flavourful that it literally fell from the bone in shreds when I attempted to remove the leg whole from the pot!

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The dish, which I served with small roasted onions I popped in the oven for the last couple of hours, and  yoghurt flavoured with garlic and coriander, was a real crowd pleaser.  There were seconds and then thirds served and I polished off the last of the lamb today for lunch.  It was pretty good reheated, let me tell you!  A shout out goes to Ms K for the delicious potato gratin which so complimented the lamb.

Although the sound of marinating something for a day may seem a little high maintenance for most, I assure you the marinade was pretty straightforward and, once it was poured over the lamb, you got quite a lot of bang in flavour for your small amount of effort.

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Slow Roasted Spiced Leg of Lamb

Ingredients

- Leg of lamb weighing approximately 2.8-3 kilograms (will feed 7-8 people)
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced into quarters or halves length ways
- 1 cup plain yoghurt (unsweetened)
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron strands
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground tumeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons shredded coconut (unsweetened)
- juice of 2 lemons
- 3 tablespoons ghee
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 8 small onions, peeled

On the day before you intend to eat your leg of lamb, it's time to marinate, baby!  First, soak your saffron strands in three tablespoons of hot water.  Then, in a blender or food processor, blend the yoghurt, all the spices, the coconut, the saffron and the water it's infused in, and the lemon juice.

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On the stove in a small saucepan, melt the ghee and tip the brown sugar on top.  When it's starting to melt and bubble, add 1 1/2 cups of water.  Bring this to a boil and then turn down the heat to a brisk simmer, stirring constantly until the liquid has reduced to one-third it's former volume and looks dark and treacly.   Reserve half the liquid for later and pour the other half into the yoghurt marinade, whisking to combine.

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Meanwhile, place your leg of lamb in a deep glass baking dish.  Stab the meat with a knife and push the garlic cloves into the slices.  Pour the yoghurt marinade over the top, ensuring it covers every surface.  Cover with cling wrap and place in the refridgerator for the next 24 hours.

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The next day, you should remove the leg of lamb from the fridge about two hours before you plan to put it in the oven.  You want it to return to room temperature so the slow-cooking times aren't thrown out of whack.

Next, preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celcius.   Remove the leg of lamb from the marinade and save the marinade for later.

Heat a heavy cast-iron casserole dish on the stove top and melt two tablespoons of ghee.  Brown all the sides of the leg of lamb - you just want to brown it, not cook it, so it shouldn't take too long - and then add two cups of water over the top of the lamb.  Cover the pot with aluminium foil and then place the lid on top.  Put the casserole dish in the oven and leave it well alone for two hours.

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At the two-hour mark, remove the dish from the oven and turn the leg of lamb over to ensure the whole leg stays moist.  Return the casserole dish to the oven.

Now, mix the last of the dark sugar syrup with the remaining marinade, again whisking them together to combine.

At the three-hour mark, remove dish from the oven again, pour the marinade over the top and add the onions.  Reduce the heat to 140 degrees Celcius and return the dish to the oven.  At this point the lamb will likely be too tender and ready to fall off the bone to allow you to flip it again, so you may need to baste it at the four-hour mark to make sure the top part of the leg doesn't dry out.

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At the five-hour mark, turn off the oven.  If your guests are late, just leave the dish in the oven until you are ready to eat.  Otherwise, remove the lamb from the oven onto a carving board.  The flesh should simply fall away from the bone, but I helped it along by using two forks to break it up a bit into shreds.  I placed the lamb and onions on a large platter which had a little lip and then poured a few spoonfuls of the sauce from the pot over the meat.

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While the spices don't overpower the lamb, they do help elevate this dish well above the average Sunday roast and the tenderness of the meat was all down to the 24 hours of marinating and the long cooking time.

Most of my guests enjoyed the dish with a nice cabernet sauvignon, but as a white drinker, I sipped a glass of Lark Hill riesling with mine, purchased last week on the Canberra District Wine Challenge.  The Challenge went on hold this long-weekend, with Jess, Matt and Tanya all out of action, but hopefully we'll be back at the cellar doors of the district next weekend!

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