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
6 to 8
For the lamb:
4-pound bone-in lamb shoulder, patted dry
fine sea salt
extra-virgin olive oil
ras el hanout (recipe follows)
medium carrots, cut in half crosswise
red onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
fennel bulb, quartered
head garlic, halved, or 3 stalks of green garlic, trimmed
preserved lemon, halved lengthwise
For the ras el hanout:
dried rose petals
fresh chile flakes (I pulse a chile de arbol in a spice grinder)
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:
The ras al hanout can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
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.