To make room in our freezer, something that’s a much valued resource these days, I took out what I thought was a 3 1/2 pound lamb shoulder roast, which wound up to be 2 individual roasts. Originally, we had intended to use the lamb for Easter, but we needed the space.
The recipe I had chosen almost a month ago, “Tender Lamb Shoulder,” is from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients cookbook. In fact, it was watching him prepare this dish on our local PBS station that motivated me to purchase the book, which has already provided the source for several posts on Cooking from Books.
If you follow my blog, you probably know that I gravitate towards recipes that use a modicum of ingredients, require a minimal amount of prep, and deliver loads of flavor. The subject of today’s post checks all those boxes: 5 ingredients, 10 minutes prep, and a panoply of flavors.
The only difficulty the recipe posed was acquiring the key ingredients. To start, it was impossible to find a 4 ½-pound bone-in lamb shoulder here in San Diego without spending a small fortune either on a special order from a local butcher or mail ordering from D’Artagnan. Prices ranged from $65 to $95. Eventually, I wound up purchasing a pair of boneless roasts from our local Whole Foods for a fraction of the bone-in price.
For two other ingredients, the ras el hanout, a Moroccan blend of over a dozen spices, and the preserved lemons, another Moroccan specialty, I had to turn to online sources. Both of these are essential to this dish and not too expensive. If you can’t find them locally, an online search should provide several suppliers.
Finally, given the season, even finding ripe plum tomatoes proved difficult, so I was forced to substitute imported chopped Italian plum tomatoes, which, I’m happy to report, worked perfectly well in this dish.
As for the dried chickpeas, no problem; they were already in my pantry. One word of advice: do not attempt to substitute canned beans for the dried, which, after six hours of cooking, deliver a creamy, toasted nutty flavor. I must admit that I was skeptical as to how they would turn out without soaking or par-cooking. But I threw caution to the wind and forged ahead with the dried chickpeas, but rinsed and drained them after sorting.
To ensure that the chickpeas cook through, it is essential both to use the full four cups of water called for by the recipe and to tightly cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil. (We used two layers.) I would also advise placing the pan in the lower third of the oven, about 5 inches from the bottom. The recipe calls for checking the chickpeas after 3 hours of cooking, which we did. However, we found there was sufficient liquid in the pan so that no additional water was required.
When we ultimately sat down to dinner, we had one of the most succulent lamb dishes either of us ever had. Yes, a rare, saignant leg of lamb and quickly grilled lamb chops scottaditto are hard to beat. But this long-cooked shoulder reminded me of the meltingly tender Roman baby lamb, abbacchio. Six hours of cooking yielded moist, pull-apart meat with rich, deep lamb flavor perfectly complemented by the Moroccan spice blend. The sweet tomatoes and buttery chickpeas provided a nutty, creamy accompaniment with bursts of acidity from the chopped preserved lemons cutting through any remaining fattiness from the meat.
Acquiring the ingredients to make this dish is well worth the effort, and I’m sure we’ll make it again before too long.
Tender Lamb Shoulder (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients: Quick and Easy Food)
1 pound dried chickpeas, sorted, rinsed, and drained
2 preserved lemons, (¾ oz each)
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, or 2 14.5 ounce tins of crushed plum tomatoes
1 4½ pound lamb shoulder, bone in or 3½ pound boneless lamb shoulder, tied
2 heaping teaspoons ras el hanout
Note: This dish needs to go into a cold oven; do not preheat.
1. Sort, rinse, and drain the dried chickpeas and pour into a 16- x 12-inch roasting pan. You may also want to spray the roasting pan with some olive oil.
2. Quarter the preserved lemons and trim away the seedy core, then finely chop the rind and add to the pan with a good splash of liquor from their jar.
3. Roughly chop the tomatoes, adding them to the tray as you go, or add canned tomatoes. (I mistakenly added the tomatoes after placing the lamb in the pan.)
4. Drizzle the lamb with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then rub all over with the ras el hanout and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. If using more than one boneless shoulder roast, you may need additional oil.
5. Sit the lamb in the pan, pour in 4 cups of water, cover tightly with tin foil and place in a cold oven. If using canned tomatoes, use some of the water to rinse out the cans. Be careful not to pour any liquid over the meat, just around it.
6. Turn the temperature to 325ºF and leave the lamb in there for 6 hours, or until the chickpeas are cooked through and the lamb is pullable – after 3 hours, check the lamb; if dry, stir a splash of water into the chickpeas, covering tightly again with foil.
7. To serve, taste the chickpeas, season to perfection, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, then pull the lamb apart with two forks.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir