Do you need a complete fail-safe, hands off way to feed a crowd easily and elegantly? If so, I’ve got a solution for you. This five hour lamb shoulder is my default dinner party/lunch party answer- and I think it might soon be yours too. If you’re in a hurry for how-to, skip straight to the matching photo at the bottom. If you’ve got the wherewithal for chat, and context, read on.
This is not the first recipe for lamb shoulder on this site. But it is the one I keep making again and again. I make it because it is the perfect equation of results trumping effort. It takes care of itself in the oven. The meat is pliant. It forks apart graciously at the table, allowing for an easy family-style presentation. No need for carving, or querying if your leg of lamb is going to be blushingly medium rare, or well rested so it doesn’t weep pink juices over the plate. This is supposed to be slow cooked until as soft as your favourite fleece. It’s well-cooked nature means it’s also perfect for pregnancies and the mildly squeamish. And if you’ve got any leftovers, you can easily freeze them in portions for the meat and three veg bowls (see the previous post), braise it in tomato sugo with some fennel seeds and dried chilli for a praise-worthy pasta sauce or shepherd’s pie base, or simply top it with pastry and have a forkingly delicious lamb pie with mushy peas.
You can take this dish in any direction. It can be classically English, and served with mint sauce, braised greens, and roast potatoes (cook the potatoes for some of the time in the oven with the lamb, then allow the lamb to rest and crank up the temperature of the oven to finish off your roasties). You can take it on a tour to the Middle East and serve it with cumin roasted carrots dabbed with labna, or tahini yoghurt and dukkah, some beetroot puree, babaganush, flat breads and a zippy green salad. You can give it an Italian lilt with wilted cavalo nero and peas, and another salad of cannelini beans, marinated artichokes and wafts of parmesan. You could make it French with a potato dauphinoise and a simple salad of butter lettuce, shaved fennel and radish and a Dijon dressing.
Or you could do a modern-Australian feast like I usually do. I place the lamb on the table along side a large roast vegetable and quinoa salad (which takes into account any suprise vegetarians who appear at the table). I’ll add a green salad with shaved zuchinni and fennel. I’ll roast some sweet potato fries. And I’ll roast some dutch carrots and dab them with a salsa verde I’ve made from the carrot tops, almonds, anchovies, capers, apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
I’ve made this lamb for Easter Sundays when small children have fossicked in our backyard for chocolate eggs while the adults have cracked the third bottle of red wine. I’ve made it for my Dad countless times. I’ve made it in holiday houses (which is how we discovered the hard way that lamb fat when poured down a drain will congeal and block the drain). And a few weeks ago I made it to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary. I served it to two of my bridesmaids (one who had just returned back from a long stint overseas and the other is just about to move four hours away). The lamb sat patiently in the oven while we fed small people and ushered them off to the front room to watch a film. We sat around our table and shared stories and adventures, memories and mild regrets; reaching back over each other to fork for a little bit more as we went for seconds and thirds.
I’d hoped there would be leftovers. There weren’t many. It really is that good.
Here are a few other things that are going on.
Reading: I’ve fallen into a reading lull. I needed to get back into the habit of reading a novel before bed, rather than just scrawling through Instagram. An easy page turning story is always the best way to do that. I just finished Kevin Kwan’s sequel to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ in two days. ‘China Rich Girlfriend’ is a similarly hilarious romp through the outrageous behaviours of the stratospheric wealth in Singapore, Shanghai and beyond. It’s got a touch of Jane Austen in its droll take on social mores and the footnotes from the author on everything from translations of filthy take downs, to reprimanding the school tutor who caned him are highly entertaining. An excellent holiday read.
Also; this piece on ‘The Invisible Work of the Stay at Home Mom‘ . It’s a short piece that had a few great truth bombs in it. Like this one. “The problem with stay-at-home mothers is that they are often graded on the same scale as those that work outside the home…There are no spreadsheets, no reports written, and often, the results are counter-intuitive to what one would think a successful day looks like. I must remind myself that building character is often invisible. Words read from a story book can’t be seen. Compassion, hugs, reassurance, warmth, and full bellies are lost under a veil of unfolded, yet clean clothes.”. Helpful to re read whenever you or someone in your orbit might need reminding of the worth of what they’re doing.
Watching: I’m already sucked into Rise. Yes, it’s exactly the plot of High School Musical and seems to be an extended infomercial for Hamilton and I think after the finale of How I met your mother it’s still too soon to see Ted Moseby on a small screen, yet I’m in. If you love a musical and miss Friday Night Lights then get into it.
Listening: The ‘Making Obama‘ podcast by the same folks who made ‘Making Oprah’ is well worth a listen, particularly if you’ve got a long drive (or need to deep clean the house because you live with a 14 month old whose favourite thing to do is hurl food from her high chair like a blender without a lid on).
Eating: I’ve got a new nomination for my favourite burger in Sydney/favourite Sunday afternoon date. Go have a swim at Curl Curl beach at 3.30 pm in the afternoon. Lots of families will be heading home around then, so you can usually get a parking spot and the beauty about North Curl Curl is that it’s protected, so even when the swell is big, it’s delightful. It’s also underneath a rocky outcrop, so there’s shade. Then have a shower there and zip around the corner to the Four Pines Truck Bar in Brookvale. In an industrial park adjacent to a Hillsong Church, indoor rock climbing, cross fit and a gin distillery, the Truck Bar has an actual 1960’s Dodge Pickup truck inside. It does fantastic burgers, fries with aiolli and spicy fried chicken wings. The Hungry One is very partial to one of their tasting paddles of a selection from one of the 21 Four Pines beers they have on tap. I’m pretty happy with a glass or two of wine. And on Sunday afternoons from 5 pm they have a live band. Life is pretty great.
Dreaming: We’re off to Canggu in Bali in June and I cannot wait. The brief for a holiday involves not flying for more than six hours with small people in tow. Access to a beach with surf. Access to good (dairy free/hipster) food. Access to great coffee. Preferably a villa, so we’re not sharing a room with the kids. And a pool would be great. I think we cracked it. Canggu is just north of Seminyak and from all intensive research, looks like an outpost of Byron Bay, that’s been transplanted to the island of the gods. If anyone has any tips, they’re gratefully received.
Five Hour Lamb Shoulder
Serves 4-6 with sides
1 x 2.5 kg lamb shoulder, bone in.
Three cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
3 sticks of rosemary
1 cup of rose wine/water
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds/pepitas/ a handful of fresh herbs – parsley/fennel tops, mint are all lovely.
1 quick pickled onion (cut a red onion into the slimmest half moons you can manage, season with 1 tsp salt and use your fingers to scrunch the salt into the onion slivers. Then cover with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, cover and leave to steep while the lamb is cooking. The onion will turn fuchsia, soften and sweeten).
Preheat the oven to 220C/450F.
Use the point of your knife to make approximately 10 slits in flesh of the lamb, evenly spaced. Place a sliver of garlic in each slit. Salt the top of the lamb generously.
Place the rosemary in the bottom of a heavy bottom roasting dish. Place the lamb over the top. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 130C.
Remove the lamb from the oven and pour the wine or water into the bottom of the roasting dish. Cover the lamb with the lid, or snuggly with some foil and return to the oven and bake at 130C for 5 hours, or until the lamb is pulling apart with your forks (nb, some ovens are unpredictable when you put them under 150C, if you don’t have complete faith in your oven, then give yourself extra time to roast the lamb, just in case it needs longer to be fork tender. If it’s ready earlier, it will happily rest covered in a warm, low oven until you are ready to serve) .
After 5 hours the lamb should be shirking off the bone and shredding easily with a fork. Remove the lamb from the roasting dish.
Pour out the majority of the liquid from the bottom of the pot into a spare jar or container and place it in the fridge (you do not want to pour it down the sink. A lot of it will be lamb fat and that will clog your sink. Once it has hardened in the fridge you can separate the fat off from the liquid underneath, which will probably be jellified stock, which is great to use to moisten any leftovers, or use to braise greens in, or as a base for soup).
Shred the lamb a little with forks and tongs to make it easy to share at the table. Top with the pickled onions, pumpkin seeds and herbs. Serve with some salads, breads and a salsa verde sauce.