How to Spin Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder into 6 Winter Meals

December  6, 2016

When you have a small budget for both money and time, you can still create food that is big with both flavor and nutrition.

I am such a believer in this idea that I created a whole class series at the community cooking school 18 Reasons to celebrate and demonstrate its truth. I teach folks how to start with a big batch of something delicious—a pot of lentils, a roasted chicken, a glut of steamed beets, a pan of crispy cabbage, and on and on—and stretch it across the week's meals.

While on tour for the release of my first cookbook, Dandelion and Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs, I was repeatedly asked, “What is your favorite recipe?” Although my actual answer is complex, I did my best to provide a straightforward and honest response: the recipe I make the most is the Twelve-Hour Lamb Shoulder with Ras el Hanout because it perfectly embodies my essential strategy of stretching one dish into a week's worth of meals.

For me, the meat is really just an accessory to many meals full of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and grains. The lamb shoulder is easy, satisfying, wholesome, and—once stretched—very pragmatic. (And for those wondering what the "unusual" ingredient is, the ras el hanout contains rose petals!)

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You'll want to start this a day or two before you make it: Ideally, the lamb shoulder is dry-brined for about 8 hours before it's cooked. You can dry-brine overnight, then cook all day (in time for dinner) or dry-brine it during the day and cook it as you sleep (ready for breakfast!).

Either way, here's how a twelve-hour investment at the start of the week can be flexed into 5 dinners (and a bonus breakfast).

First, make sure your pantry is stocked with the following staples:

  • Olive oil
  • Neutral oil (such as rice bran or grapeseed)
  • Vinegar (I consider Banyul's red wine vinegar the multi-purpose superstar)
  • Fish sauce
  • Shoyu or tamari
  • White or brown rice
  • Short pastas, such as couscous and cencioni or penne
  • Barley or farro
  • Kombu
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanuts and/or sesame seeds
  • Pecorino or Parmesan
  • Corn tortillas, and all your favorite taco toppings (mine: purslane, beans, avocado, salsa, serrano, crème fraîche)
  • Alliums: garlic, onion, green onion, shallot
  • Chile flakes and/or fresh Fresno chiles
  • A mix of herbs, such as mint, cilantro, parsley, chives, celery leaves, or lovage
  • Ginger
  • Lemon and lime
  • Radish
  • Chicories
  • A seasonal vegetable, such as pumpkin
  • Your favorite baby leafy green: kale, spinach, dandelion, or chard

Once your lamb shoulder is cooked and your kitchen is stocked, you're ready to mix and match meals:

First (Bonus) Meal: An Unusual Breakfast

All you need is a little cooked rice or toasted bread, some coarse salt, and a wedge of lemon, and you can have yourself "A Most Unusual Breakfast."

Ladle the vegetables—along with a bit of the fat and broth—into a bowl and mashed them with a fork. Stir in half a cup of cooked rice or polenta and add a squeeze of lemon and some coarse salt. Or, slather the vegetables onto toasted bread.

Save any vegetables you don't use—you can run them through a food mill or blitz them in a food processor and then use them to add texture to sauce or a purée.

Make Broth for the Rest of the Week

After you have breakfast, throw together a Lamb Broth of sorts. Strain the lamb’s braising liquid, discarding bones and any remaining vegetable pieces through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve, and refrigerate it. When the fat has risen and hardened slightly, skim it off top. Reserve some of the braising liquid to accompany Dinner 1.

Then, steep kombu in a medium saucepan full of 4 cups of hot water for 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the lamb shoulder by hand. Remove the kombu and discard, or reserve for another use. Combine the remaining strained and skimmed lamb liquid with the kombu stock and add 2 pinches of fine sea salt. Refrigerate the meat and broth in separate airtight containers, and remove, as needed, throughout the week.

Soak some beans.

Dinner 1: Lamb Shoulder with Couscous, Chickpeas, and Herb and Radish Salad

For your first meal, rewarm some of the shredded lamb shoulder in a bit of the reserved braising liquid (as stewy or dry as you'd like). Add in cooked chickpeas, couscous, and a splash of red wine vinegar, then garnish with Parmesan and serve alongside a simple herb and shaved radish salad.

Dinner 2: Pasta with Lamb Ragu and Chicory Salad

Heat reserved lamb fat or olive oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat; add chopped garlic and a pinch of salt and sauté until soft and fragrant. Add some leftover wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add 1/4 cup or so lamb broth, crushed tomatoes with their juices, chile flakes (if you want the heat), and salt. Reduce this sauce by half before stirring in some leftover shredded lamb.

Add cooked short pasta to the ragu and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Off the heat, add some olive oil and grated cheese; stir to combine (I use a wooden spoon as metal with damage the pasta). If the sauce looks dry, add as much of the remaining pasta cooking water as you’d like to achieve your desired consistency. Plate and garnish with more olive oil and shavings of cheese. Serve with a side of lightly dressed chicories.

Photo by Emiko Davies

Cook the beans you soaked last night for tomorrow night’s meal.

Dinner 3: Lamb Tacos

Reheat some shredded lamb, moistened with a tablespoon or two of the reserved lamb broth. Right before serving, hit the meat with a squeeze of lime and some coarse salt. Prepare your favorite taco sides and toppings. Working in batches, cook tortillas in a large heavy and dry skillet over low heat until warmed, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a large sheet of foil; wrap to keep warm.

Photo by James Ransom

To serve, top each tortilla with something akin to this: a smear of avocado or guacamole; a spoonful of warm beans; a serving of shredded lamb; a small spoonful of salsa; thinly sliced radish, serrano chile, and white onion; a dollop of crème fraîche; cilantro leaves; purslane; and a squeeze of lime.

Make a batch of both Crispy Shallots and Pickled Shallots (both can be made up to 3 days in advance of use) for tomorrow night.

Dinner 4: Lamb Stir-Fry with Shallots and Mint

Steam some rice. Heat a neutral oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add julienned ginger and sliced fresh chiles or a pinch of chile flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add leftover shredded lamb and a pinch of salt; cook the meat over high heat until nicely crisped in spots, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add a few tablespoons of lamb broth and a handful of fresh mint leaves; cook, stirring, until mint is wilted, about 2 minutes. Add pickled shallots, sliced green onion, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, and a pinch sugar (I like to use coconut palm sugar); cook, tossing or stirring occasionally, until sugar begins to dissolve. Garnish with more fresh mint leaves, crispy shallots, and crushed roasted peanuts.

Serve on or alongside steamed rice, with little bowls of lime wedges and sliced chiles for the folks who like extra heat and acid.

Dinner 5: Soup!

Lastly, transform any remaining Lamb Broth into something substantial with one of the following additions:

  • Quick dumplings: Fill wonton wrappers with a mixture of finely chopped braised lamb shoulder, salt, and a hit of hot sauce or chile flakes; simmer in the lamb broth until just cooked through and finish the soup with a squeeze of rice wine or Chinese black vinegar, a handful each of thinly sliced green onion, celery leaves, and cilantro leaves. Top each bowl with a drizzle of sesame seed oil and a pinch of toasted sesame seeds and coarse sea salt.

  • Pumpkin and rice: Simmer bite-sized pieces of winter squash (such as butternut or kabocha) and arborio rice (about 1/4 cup rice per 4 cups of broth) in the lamb broth until just cooked through (about 18 to 20 minutes). Garnish each serving with a tablespoon of yogurt or labneh; thinly sliced red onion or leftover crispy shallots; toasted pumpkin seeds; a pinch of chile; and a drizzle of olive oil.

  • Spring veg and pasta (depending on the season): Add parboiled baby carrots, new potatoes (halved, if large), green peas and/or fava beans (fresh or frozen); add a handful of raw baby spinach or dandelion leaves and pre-cooked farro or barley; season the soup with a squeeze of lemon and salt to taste; ladle into warm bowls and top each with either a spoonful of pesto (I like a parsley-pistachio version here) or bagna cauda.
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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Michelle McKenzie is the author of Dandelion & Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs. Her second cookbook, The Modern Larder, is due to arrive in fall 2018 and will introduce home-cooks to a raft of new, flavor-packed pantry staples - e.g. shiso, ndjua, Job's Tears, and dozens of others - and incorporate them into over 200 wholesome recipes.


granjan December 11, 2016
D*** auto correct. That's how much kombu!
granjan December 11, 2016
I don't see how much combo to use for the broth.