(North African spit-roasted lamb)
No feast in North Africa would be complete without méchoui, a whole lamb slow roasted in front of the glowing embers of an open-air charcoal fire.
Perhaps surprisingly, instead of being the main dish, meat from méchoui is actually served more as an appetizer to get a party going. This dramatic outdoor dish is especially popular for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha celebrations.
To prepare, the fresh lamb is seasoned inside and out with garlic and spices and the gut is sewn shut. After mounting on a spit, a patient soul is assigned to rotate the whole lamb in front of the fire for several hours until it is cooked through and falling off the bone. A regular basting with melted butter produces crispy skin. Once finished, the host uses clean fingers to pull off and serve the deliciously tender and moist meat to guests.
Since most of us don't have a spit roaster on hand, this recipe produces a smaller, oven-roasted version with a leg of lamb that is meltingly tender. For those who want to take on the full deal, we've given you a head start with some basic directions in the variations section.
6 to 8 servings
- Leg of lamb -- 1 whole
- Olive oil -- 1/3 cup
- Garlic, minced -- 8 cloves
- Paprika -- 2 tablespoons
- Coriander -- 2 tablespoons
- Cumin -- 1 tablespoon
- Salt and pepper -- to season
- Unsalted butter, melted -- 6 tablespoons
- Trim any excess fat from the lamb, but leave enough to protect and moisten the meat. Mix the olive oil with the garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt and pepper and rub this mixture all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Place the leg of lamb on a rack in a roasting pan big enough to fit it. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Set the pan in the oven and roast for 4 to 5 hours, or until the meat is cooked through and starting to fall off the bone.
- Increase oven temperature to 450°F. Remove foil and return pan to oven. Roast for another 15 to 30 minutes, basting ever 5 minutes or so with the melted butter until the surface of the lamb is browned and crisp. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for around 30 minutes.
- Remove the lamb to a serving platter. Strain any pan juices into a bowl or gravy boat and serve on the side. Serve with bread or couscous and a simple salad. Diners can help themselves to the meat by pinching off portions from the platter. In Morocco, it's traditional to dip pinches of the meat in a mixture of coarse salt and toasted cuminseed.
- Spit-Roasted Whole Méchoui: You'll need a whole lamb (a 35-pound animal will serve about 30 to 40 people), a fire pit and a spit rotisserie. Fill the gut cavity with onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc. for flavor and sew it up with cooking twine. Get your fire going. Set up the rotisserie (in front of the fire, not over it) and rotate the spit slowly for 4 to 5 hours, or until all the meat is cooked through, moist and tender. Salt the meat from time to time and baste it periodically with melted butter to encourage a crispy skin. Remove the spit from the fire and let the meat rest a bit. Then use clean hands to remove the meat from the bones and onto serving platters. Eat it up!
- North African Spice Blend: For a more complex flavor, add a nice spoonful of ras el hanout spice blend to the paprika, coriander and cumin listed above.