Moroccan Lamb Mechoui
"We're off on the road to Morocco, This camel is tough on the spine (hit me with a Band-Aid, Dad). Where they're going, why we're going, how can we be sure? I'll lay you eight to five that we'll meet Dorothy Lamour." Lyrics by Bing Crosby
In North Africa, especially Morocco, the Islamic cooking is refined, influenced heavily by settlers from France, Spain, and even Jewish culture.
In Morocco, Mechoui means "roasted on an open fire." Lamb is the most common animal used for mechoui, although the term can be used for other animals and even vegetables. Lamb is usually roasted on a spit, and often the cavity is filled with organ meats, herbs, or fruits.
Mechoui is often served for Eid al-Adha is the Islamic holiday that commemorates the story from the Koran (and the Old Testament) of Ibrahim (Abraham), who was asked by his god to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isaac) as a test of his devotion. At the last minute, as Ibrahim was about to consummate the sacrifice, god told him to stop, a lamb (or ram) appeared nearby, and was offered instead.
Today "The Feast of the Slaughter of the Lamb" is celebrated in most Islamic households usually in November. When possible, a lamb is slaughtered the day of the feast.
Instead of a whole a whole lamb, a leg of lamb will feed at least a dozen hungry guests. This meat is marinated overnight in charmoula, a typical North African sauce and marinade. It is then sprinkled with ras el hanout, a dry spice mix also common to the region, grilled, and served with harissa, a classic hot pepper paste.
You can roast the whole leg on the grill with the bone in, but that's hard to carve. Bone gets in the way. You can remove the bone and tie it up with string and slice it thin when it's done. That's very nice, but there's not a lot of surface for the marinade to penetrate, trussing it is tricky, and it can take hours to cook. I prefer to cut the leg into large chunks, about 2" square, and grill them quickly with the lid open so they are crispy outside and red and tender and juicy inside. You can skewer them, but metal skewers get hot and cook the meat on the inside. I just make large chunks and grill them.
Lamb Mechoui Recipe
Makes. 12 servings
Preparation time. 30 minutes to carve up the meat and 30 minutes to make the charmoula marinade
Marination time. 4-24 hours
Cooking time. 15 minutes
1 leg of lamb, about 4 pounds
4 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix
1 1/2 cup charmoula herb paste
1/2 cup harissa hot pepper paste
Shortcut. If you don't want to make charmoula, you can use something close like chimichurri sauce, or an oil and vinegar salad dressing such as My Wife's Italian Vinaigrette, or you can use my sheep dip, my favorite lamb marinade.
1) Have your butcher remove the bone from the leg and cut off about 6-8" of the shank. Freeze the shank for later use. If you get the leg bone still in, you can cut off the shank with a saw and remove the bone with a filleting knife. Remove the thick fat cap, the thin silverskin membrane, and any tendons, sinew, and cartilage while you take the meat apart. I try to remove muscles intact and cut them up into large chunks. Inevitably you will end up with chunks of varying sizes. Group them according to size so you can cook each size for a different lenght of time. Or you can freeze one group for later. Put the meat in a nonreactive pan and cover all surfaces with charmoula. Marinate up to 24 hours if possible. An hour will do, but longer is better.
2) Preheat the grill as hot as you can get it. Sprinkle the ras el hanout on the meat generously, but not thick. Grill on one side until it releases from the grate easily and gets good grill marks. Roll it onto the opposite side and take the temp of several pieces immediately. Small pieces will cook fast, and grills have hotspots, so test many pieces. Use this Food Temperature Guide to decide when to take it off. I usually pull it at 125-130°F for rare meat. Serve with couscous and harissa sauce on the side.