In my usual spirit of leaving very little to clean up, and also providing plenty of scope for experimentation, I think you’re going to like this one. I haven’t worked with lamb much before other than keeping it really simple on the barbecue, so this was a nice little bit of deep-end cooking for me. I openly admit I don’t know lamb very well, so I’m going to be really non-specific about the cut to use. I used what my French supermarché called a tranche (French for “slice”) and it looked like a steak. Basically you want something not too lean (hell, it’s lamb) and not too fatty either. Goldilocks meat.
I treated the whole thing a bit like the curry cooking class we did back in Perth – get a sticky vegetable base going while the meat marinates, brown it up, then add everything else and let it reduce. This is where the Spanish influence comes in. Kim insists that I wasn’t using a proper Spanish sofrito as my base, because I made it in about a tenth of the time it takes for hers to cook. She’s probably right. I just took a slightly more… persuasive approach to reducing it. In keeping with the tagine spirit, the spices I’ve used are cumin, star anise, and cinnamon – very round, fragrant spices as opposed to the usual sharp, biting ones I’m usually so fond of.
Got your shopping bag? Here’s your list.
- 3 medium sized onions – chopped finely.
- 2 red capsicums – one and a half chopped finely, the rest sliced.
- Enough bits of lamb for two – chopped roughly.
- 5 smallish vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped roughly and deseeded.
- A punnet of mushrooms, quartered. Don’t bother with fancy ones, this is supposed to be rustic, and the cooking style & strong flavours will make short work of any nuances of mushroomy goodness.
- 1 small lemon
- A good pinch of ground cumin
- A cinnamon quill
- A star anise
- A couple of bay leaves
- Good quality dried thyme
- Ground black pepper
- A cup or two of chicken stock.
- Beer or wine or cooking sake or something light-coloured and not too alcoholic – just a splash
You need to get started by marinating the meat, and making the sofrito. I made this in a pot with a lid – only one thing to clean up! To this end, it might be worth cook your mushrooms first in the bottom of the pot in a little bit of oil and thyme. They don’t need to be cooked particularly well, just softened up and browned a little bit.
Put your chopped lamb in a bowl, add the cumin and a pinch of black pepper, and turn it through really well to give it a good coating. Juice the lemon into the bowl, turn that through, and leave it alone. The acid in the lemon juice will get to work straight away, chemically cooking the meat and tenderising it long before it gets anywhere near the pot.
Now for that controversial sofrito. Put some oil in the bottom of your pot, and get your onion and chopped capsicum frying. A pinch of salt always helps draw the moisture out of onions, so give it a sprinkle. Don’t be shy with the heat at this point, it needs the bejeezis cooked out of it. No need to pay constant attention to it, by all means chop the other stuff while it’s cooking. If it gets a bit stuck at any point, splash some booze in your problem spots and deglaze it, give it a good turn through, and keep going. Feel free to add the cinnamon and star anise to the sofrito, but keep track of them!
Your sofrito is done when the onion’s browned, and it’s starting to get almost to the point where bits are burning. It should be almost jammy. This is when you need to get the meat in. I pushed the sofrito out to the edge to make a little well in the middle, added a little splash more oil, and dropped the meat & marinade juice straight in. Give it a turn by itself if you can, but there’s really no harm done if it gets mixed up with the sofrito now.
Once the meat’s browned, drop in the tomatoes and the rest of the capsicum. Turn it all through, then top it off with a cup of stock to make sure everything’s nicely covered. Bring it to the boil, turn the heat right down, cover the pot, and forget about it for about 20 minutes.
The last thing to do is reduce it to a thick sauce. Lose the lid, turn up the heat to medium/high, and stir it regularly. If it’s being stubbornly thin once a decent amount of liquid’s gone, stir through half a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with cold water, that should kick things along. It’s during this reducing stage that you can get busy with whatever you’re going to serve it with. I did that wild rice blend, stirred up with a little bit of browned spring onion & butter, but it was a tough call between that, cous cous, or mashed potatoes. Hell, thicken it up enough and it’d be fine with nice fresh bread.
Speaking of which, don’t bother putting it into a bowl. Bring the pot to the table, and definitely have some bread on hand, because it’s so goddamn tasty that the thought of washing the pot with anything still stuck to the sides is criminal.