Friday, 10 September 2010

Nigella’s Moroccan Lamb, Jemima’s way

or Marrakech via Finsbury Park

It’s very seldom that the BSG’s steady hand is jolted by nerves. He started a new job recently with no outward signs of apprehension, save perhaps a few moments of deep thought before choosing his tie on the first day. In the kitchen dealing with food he is the master of calm - unless he’s interfering when someone else is cooking, - namely his Mum, his sister and I - at which time you want to evacuate. Until I got to know this family I’m not sure I knew anyone - save my Mum and her copy of The Cookery Year - who actually dipped into cookbooks very often. I mean, they look lovely and are fun to peruse and pipe-dream your way through but how many recipes from their beautiful pages does the average person actually attempt?

The BSG’s sister, Jemima, treated us to a feast recently. Inspired by three bedside muses from the cookbook pile, Yotam, Nigella and Valentine, she laid on a spread that belied her pitiful nurse’s pay and night-shift induced fatigue. By day - and often by night - she is nothing short of heroic. If ever such care were to be translated into food, it was at this supper.

After a starter of beetroot and goat’s cheese with peppery leaves and mint came the main event: Nigella’s Moroccan leg of lamb with Yotam’s jewelled couscous, re-interpreted by Jemima. The meat was tender and infused with aromatic flavours within and crisp and caramelised on the outside (impossible to resist swiping the charred bits off the carving board with my fingers as I pretended to clear up afterwards). Marinated in a bag in the fridge first for 24 hours, it was as if the animal had grown up in a souk and had been taking on the flavours all its life and Jemima’s addition of a drop or two of rosewater lifted it skywards to sublime. It was a spiced dream of a roast, perhaps the best lamb I’ve eaten anywhere. Moorish indeed.

1 leg of lamb, approx. 2.5kg

2 tbsp ras el hanout spice blend

2 lemons, juice only

2 clove garlic, minced

6 tbsp olive oil

1 bunches coriander, fresh, chopped

Make incisions all over the leg of lamb, and then mix the ras-el-hanout with the lemon juice, oil, minced garlic and coriander.

Using your fingers, push pinches of the mixture into the holes. Rub the remaining aromatic paste over the lamb and then put it into a large freezer bag, squeeze out any air and then tie it up and leave it to marinade in the fridge overnight, or for longer.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6, and take the lamb out of the fridge to come to room temperature.

Put the leg of lamb into a roasting pan, squeezing any marinade out of the bag over the meat. Roast the lamb for about an hour and a half (though J says one hour and twenty mins), by which time it should be aromatically blackened on the outside, and still tender and pink within. Let the lamb rest once it comes out of the oven for at least 15 minutes, though I leave this a good hour after it's come out of the oven.

Mr Ottolengi’s couscous was light and scattered with gems: emerald cucumber ribbons and ruby-like pomegranate seeds amongst other goodies. It was the perfect side dish, though I am sure one that’d be a very good protagonist in the absence of the meat. And don’t get me started on Valentine’s buns! Soaked like bath-sponges (similarity ends there, they were light and perfect) in a of oranges, cardamom and honey; we definitely each had one more than we ought.

With this kind of culinary confidence flowing through the BSG family veins, it’s rather uncharacteristic of him to be so jittery. For the first time ever he is worried that he’s going to mess up, wait for it - roast beef.

But this is not just any old beef. Its Kobe beef (oooooooh) from the very first UK-bred herd of Wagyu cattle. A select group of us are donning our critics’ bibs this weekend to see what all the fuss is about and we’re overexcited to taste this extra marbled brute, which has now been hanging for a good few weeks. Our super friend Tam’s Dad has been dedicated to this project, lovingly farming the herd in Suffolk and we’ve bagged our lucky selves a considerable chunk of the first steer to hit the block (for mates’ rates bien sur). We can’t wait to try it, before the rest of the herd goes to top restaurants all over the UK. Watch this space for pictures and verdict on what promises to be the ultimate roast!

* This recipe inspired me to reach for one of the many Nigella books we have on our shelves, which made me realise that when she is not voluptuously binging on sweet things by the milky light of her fridge in that satin dressing gown she is really a very happy-making cook.

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