As we enter yet another week of lockdown I am trying to add a bit more diversity to our dinner table. I began leafing through old kitchen notebooks to get inspiration from past dishes. I came across an uptown version of lamb mechoui that used to be a fixture on my menus almost 20 years ago. A dish I had long forgotten about.
For those unfamiliar with mechoui, it is a festive lamb dish from North Africa. It’s usually made from a whole lamb, though small camels, gazelles, or even wild sheep will work in a pinch. Mechoui is intended to serve large gatherings, like a wedding or a joyous celebration. My version starts with a 3-pound boneless lamb shoulder marinated in spiced butter, then slow-cooked over a charcoal fire. But you can even make this in a conventional oven to get an unconventional flavor unto your table.
In Morocco, whole lambs or goats are cooked in earthen clay ovens or even large holes dug deep into the ground. A large wood fire is constructed and allowed to burn until nothing but embers are left. The lamb is often massaged with a spiced butter made from coriander, garlic, cumin, paprika, and sometimes cinnamon. Sometimes it is seasoned with a tomato and garlic marinade. The animal is lowered into the pit bound by a spit and entombed under a roof of clay. The embers smoke and crackle, charring the exterior and rendering the flesh tender and juicy in 5 to 6 hours. Mechoui is commonly served with nothing more than bowls of cumin, pepper, and salt to flavor the meat and perhaps a bowl of saffron rice.
Since I do not have enough people to feed a proper mechoui to I generally cook a leg or preferably a shoulder of lamb. The shoulder lends itself to the longer cooking time and yields incredibly tender and juicy meat. I marinate the lamb for at least two hours but preferably overnight. I like to cook the mechoui in a hot smoker or charcoal grill but an oven at 375°F will work as well. Serve with saffron rice or golden couscous.
Prep Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours