Monday 10 December 2012

Return of the slow-cooker

I am finding it really hard these days to even get near my computer to write my blog.  It used to be my kids who hijacked the laptop, limiting my writing time to "after bedtime" hours, by which time I was usually ready for bed myself. But now it is our latest addition to our household, Rudy the kitten who has managed to usurp all the computer time.

Since I am still refusing to put on the heating during the day, he has decided that this is the only warm place in the house.  And I have to agree it is getting quite cold out.  The first dusting of snow was on the ground yesterday and it is just the time of year that the slow-cooker is dragged out the cupboard, dusted down and put to good use once more. The house is full of the smell of cooking and everyone gets to come home to a hot dinner. 

I had my heart set on some slow-cooked lamb and usually I choose shoulder as it is so fatty that it always holds up beautifully to hours and hours of gentle heat but Hughie, the other half is incredibly fussy about his meat and shows a huge amount of hostility to even the smallest amount of gristle or fat on his plate.  Wishing to avoid confrontation of any sort, I opted for leg of lamb.  Amazingly, due to the fact that leg is so often on special offer in the supermarkets, this proved to be the same price as shoulder. I was worried that the meat would be dry but after 8 hours in the slow-cooker it was meltingly soft, juicy and tender. I based the whole dish on a variation of Machoui which is a North African recipe for whole slow-cooked lamb, originally sealed in a fire pit which would have effectively created the same environment as the slow-cooker in gently steaming the meat, which what results in it being so succulent  You could equally successfully adapt it for Kleftiko, which means "stolen meat".  This is the Greek version of the same dish. According to legend, this dish would be made with a lamb stolen from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thief would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground, sealed with mud so that no steam could escape to give him away."

I wanted it to be a one pot dish. I had a lot of Celeriac in the fridge so I used predominately used that, but this is a good dish to use-up any root vegetables you have to hand.  For the spices I used a mixture of Seasoned Pioneer's Fajita Seasoning Spice Mix and Ras-el-Hanout  Spice Blend, which I especially love with its pretty rose petals. To this I added extra cumin, some freshly ground fennel seeds and some fresh coriander. I could not have been happier with the way this dish turned out. It is barely a recipe though because you can use whatever spices you like, whatever veg you like, whatever beans or you like or maybe chickpeas but whatever you choose, I guarantee it will be delicious.

Slow-cooked Spiced Leg of Lamb with Coriander and Butter Beans
This dish can just as easily be cooked in the oven, on a very low heat, wrapped in tin foil to create the steam.

1 leg of lamb on the bone

1 tin of good quality plum tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 bunches Coriander
2 tins Butter Beans

Spices - use what ever you have to hand.  I used - 
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp fennel seeds, finely ground
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp Fajita Seasoning Spice Mix
1 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout  Spice Blend
1 tbsp Sea Salt

Mix the spices all together including the salt. Stab the lamb with a sharp knife is several places, deep into the flesh.  Insert some garlic into each cut and as much spice mix as you can.  Massage the remaining spice mix all over the lamb.  Peel and chop the celeriac, or any other root vegetables, into 1" chunks   Put in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Roughly chop one bunch of coriander and add next.  Add the tin of tomatoes.  Finally top with the leg of lamb.  Cook for 8 - 10 hours on slow.  When the meat is falling off the bone, do just that.  Remove any fat or skin and roughly break up the meat into nice size chunks.  Pour off the sauce and veg into a saucepan.  Skim if necessary, although there shouldn't be very much fat.  Add the drained butter beans and the other bunch of chopped coriander and bring to the boil.  Check the seasoning and when perfect add the meat and bring back to the boil.  (You can do all this in the slow-cooker if you like).  Serve with some Cous Cous or Bulgar Wheat, drizzled with really good extra virgin olive oil.

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