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Author Notes: The question I’m most often asked: “What is your favorite thing to cook?” My answer always seems too
complex for such a simple inquiry. So I often do a nimble dodge: “Whatever I’m cooking in the moment is my favorite thing to cook.”
But between us, my favorite thing to eat is always this dish. Plan to start this dish a day or two before you plan to serve it. While the actual hands-on time is mere minutes, the success of the dish depends on a long and slow preparation. —Michelle McKenzie
Serves 6 to 8
For the lamb:
- One 4-pound bone-in lamb shoulder, patted dry
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup ras el hanout (recipe follows)
- 2 tablespoons fine sea salt
- 3 medium carrots, cut in half crosswise
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- 1 fennel bulb, quartered
- 1 head garlic, halved, or 3 stalks of green garlic, trimmed
- 1 preserved lemon, halved lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Ideally you’ll prep the shoulder the night before you plan to cook; this pre-salting and pre-spicing is a dry brine, and it will lead to the best results. Place the shoulder in a roasting pan large enough to hold the lamb comfortably (not so tight the sides squeeze the meat; not so big that moisture will evaporate too quickly); the pan should be at least 2 inches deep. Salt the shoulder generously (approximately 2 tablespoons of fine sea salt), rub it in olive oil and massage in the ras al hanout. Distribute the vegetables and aromatics -- carrots, onion, fennel, garlic, preserved lemon—below and around the meat. Add a pat of butter on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Allow the meat to come to room temperature before roasting; this step is important and requires a few hours. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Roast the shoulder in this high heat for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 275° F. Add 2 cups of water to the pan and cover completely with a lid or double layer of aluminum foil. Cook the shoulder for 12 to 16 hours. You can baste the meat a few times, or you can leave it alone completely. Braises are wonderful in this way; they don’t ask for much.
- During the last hour of cooking, uncover the pan; this allows some remaining moisture to evaporate, producing a desirable crust on the surface of the meat. All meat should rest before serving, and in the case of a 4-pound joint, give it a good 30 minutes.
For the ras el hanout:
- 1/2 cup cumin seeds
- 1/4 cup dried rose petals
- 1/4 cup coriander seeds
- 3 tablespoons fresh chile flakes (I pulse a chile de arbol in a spice grinder)
- 5 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Set a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the cumin, coriander, and chili flakes. Dry-toast the spices, stirring constantly, until their aromas are released and they’ve turned a shade darker. Be careful not to burn the spices or they will turn bitter. Pour the spices into a spice grinder, mortar or re-purposed coffee grinder and let cool to room temperature. Add the rose petals, smoked paprika, peppercorns, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Grind to a powder. The ras al hanout can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
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