Celebrate! Spring is officially here now that the vernal equinox has passed and it feels like it too, with the temperature finally making it into double figures. After the winter we've had 12 degrees and overcast is positively balmy. The clocks will change imminently and everything will be brighter.
It is also Noruz, Persian New Year, another reason to celebrate, particularly for Iranians all over the world. In the Zoroastrian belief system, at the beginning of the cycle of life, the plant produced seeds; the bull produced all animals and from the human came the first male and female. The rest of the humanity was created from their union. This was called the first No Ruz, meaning new day, and it repeats every spring. I like the idea of formally celebrating the return of spring, particularly this year.
Celebrations should always include feasting and it was on this basis that I decided dinner Sunday should have a slightly Persian feel, with delicately spiced lamb, butterbean purée, fresh spinach with onions and yoghurt all offset with a crunchy sweet carrrot and dill salad. Had been thinking about slow roasting a half shoulder of lamb but I was curious to see what would happen if I steamed it for a couple of hours instead then blasted it in a hot oven for the last 20 minutes or so to crispy up the edges. I was brought up to understand you shouldn't play with your food and all that, but the need to know what would happen was too strong to resist.
Carrot sandwiches all round was the back up plan.
Total triumph. Adapting a recipe from the Moro cookbook. I marinated the meat for a couple of hours, then steamed it for 4 hours. The meat came out slightly shrunken - but that happens in the gas oven too - with a fair amount of spiced liquid in the pan - which doesn't happen cooked the other way. Some of it is juice from the meat and some is the marrow from the bones and all of it provided a wonderful bath to steam/braise the lamb, so the final result after a quick browning, was a most succulent joint, the intensely flavoured meat really did melt in the mouth.
Steamed spiced lamb
Half shoulder of lamb
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with salt to a paste
1 tbspn thyme leaves
1 tbspn chopped rosemary leaves
2 tbspns red wine vinegar
2 tbpsns lemon juice
1 small onion, finely grated
1 tspn hot smoked paprika
2 tbspn olive oil
Mix everything from the garlic down to the paprika and season with salt and pepper. Lightly score the flesh of the meat then rub the marinade in all over, very thoroughly. Lay the meat in the pan you will cook in then drizzle the oil over the top. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours.
Steam the meat, uncovered, for 4 hours at 100C. If you don't have a steam oven, slow roast it at Gas mark 1/120C/200F for the same amount of time.
Take the meat out of the oven and drain most of the liquid from the base of the pan, then put it into a conventional oven at Gas 7/450F/230C for 25 minutes.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes under foil, then carve and wonder at its succulent delight.
I really love the flavour of lamb and this was the lambiest lamb I think I've ever eaten. Spring is most definitely welcomed.