Basic Lamb Curry

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Lamb is a bit of a staple in our house. When I see a good deal at our local market I like to take advantage of it. This past Saturday I happened upon a couple of inexpensive lamb shoulder chops marked down by an extra dollar each. My plan was to do them “slow braised” and divide them in four for the family, but a surprise guest (a friend of my daughter) showed up for dinner and I had to extend them to feed five. I decided on going with a simple lamb curry. This killed to birds with one stone, as my daughter has been bugging me to make lamb curry since the last time I prepared it.

Menu

  • Lamb Curry (for 5-6)
  • Braised carrots with butter and cardamom
  • Rice
  • Cut watermelon
  • Milk for the kids, wine for us

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Lamb shoulder chops are highly underrated by most North Americans, who when they hear chops almost exclusively think of the tasty, tender and hellishly expensive loin chops. But shoulder chops are an incredible deal, delivering far more flavour at a fraction of the price. The trick with the shoulder chops (which admittedly are a tougher cut) is a long moist-heat cooking time. As a cooking method, curry is a natural for such cuts–drawing out the rich flavour inherent in the meat, fat and bones.

Recipe: Basic Lamb Curry (Tomato based)

  • 2 tsp Cumin seed, ground
  • 2 1/2 tsp Coriander seed, ground
  • 2-3 tsp Amchur powder (dried green mango)
  • 1/2 tsp Tumeric, ground
  • 1/2 tsp Indian paprika, ground
  • 1 tsp Chilies, ground (optional)
  • 1 tsp Cumin seed, whole
  • 1 x 2″ pc Cinnamon bark
  • 2 Black cardamom,  lightly crushed
  • 2-3 Bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs Light cooking oil (canola)
  • 2-3 Lamb shoulder chops
  • 2 med. Onions, diced
  • 4-5 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1″ Ginger root, grated
  • 2 -3 tsp Sambal oelek (optional)
  • 12 oz Can diced tomatoes and juice (or 2 good quality lg fresh tomatoes, chopped)
  • Salt
  • 2-3 c Water

Method

  1. Liberally salt lamb chops on both sides
  2. In a large wok or deep heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium-high heat
  3. When hot, add prepared lamb chops and fry until nicely browned on each side (about 3-4 minutes a side depending on temperature)
  4. Remove lamb from pot and set aside to cool
  5. Add chopped onion to pot, lowering the heat slightly, and saute
  6. While the onion is cooking, chop the lamb into very small pieces, trimming off the fat and reserving the meat and bones
  7. Set the meat aside and add the larger bones to the onions, continue cooking until the onions just start to brown
  8. Add garlic and ginger (and sambal if using) to pot and saute for a minute or two, stirring to prevent the ginger from sticking to the pot
  9. Add dry spices (first six ingredients), plus cinnamon, bay leaves, and cardamom to pan and cook for a minute or more stirring to make sure that the spices cook lightly but don’t burn
  10. Add reserved meat, stirring to coat it in the onions and spices
  11. Add a cup and a half of water and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pot
  12. Add  tomatoes and bring to boil
  13. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the lamb begins to soften (20-30 minutes or more)
  14. Add water through the cooking process keeping the curry thin enough to simmer the lamb, letting it thickening just prior to serving
  15. Salt to taste
  16. Remove any bones, bay leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon prior to serving
  17. Serve in a large ceramic bowl

Notes: Our dinner guest didn’t strike me as being very heat tolerant so I added very few chilies to the curry. My family members (except for my youngest) suggested that it could use more heat, and were it not for the guest I would have included at least the optional chili based ingredients indicated in the recipe above. Even with these additions it would qualify as a mild heat. As you can see the this curry is tomato based and tends to favour Northern Indian spices–but there are quite probably hundreds of “lamb curry” recipes from across South and Southeast Asia.

Aaron

Saturday Dinner

Sometimes mana from heaven drops into your lap. The mana in this case was a lamb leg roast picked up at a good discount from one of the local supermarkets. The roast was fresh, about 2 lbs (.888 kg), and 30% off the usual horrendously over-inflated price. I was faced with the problem of pulling together a meal around this choice cut of meat that would satisfy all around the table. The kids are true carnivores, so no immediate problems with the main course, but the question was what to serve with the meat that would get eaten and give them the required dose of vegetables and/or fruit. I opted for a basic meat and potatoes affair with a side of fresh green beans (just coming into season… at least in California) and a fruit appetizer in the form of ripe papya and lime.

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Lamb Leg Butt Roast ready to go

The meal plan was as follows:

  1. Papaya quarters with lime
  2. Roast lamb leg butt
  3. Roast new potatoes
  4. Blanched green beans
  5. Mushroom cream sauce
  6. Drinks: Milk for the kids and Malbec for us

Cooking and prep time: About 90 minutes

The plan of attack was to get the roast in the oven and leave the balance of prep and cooking for the anticipated hour of cooking time for the meat. Unfortunately, the meat cooked much faster than expected–about 40 minutes–and I was left scrambling to get the rest of the meal prepared in time. The beans were a breeze, while time was short on the potatoes. The sauce was well under way before the meat was ready, but I was still forced to let the meat rest a little longer than anticipated in order to get the meal fully ready.

Here’s a quick tip if you find yourself faced with the same situation. Take the meat out of the oven when ready (about five degrees Fahrenheit less than the desired finishing temperature), wrap it in tin foil, wrap it in a thick tea towel, and slip it into an insulated lunch kit or similar container. It will stay warm without further cooking for 15 to 20 minutes.

Using the above trick and with a little luck, I was able to pull everything together. We ate about an hour and ten minutes after the meat hit the oven–not bad all things considered.

Lamb Leg Roast

  • Lamb leg butt roast (about 2 lbs)
  • Spice rub
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rub meat generously with spice rub (either store bought or home made)
Lightly oil enamelled casserole dish or stove-top safe roasting pan.
Heat casserole on the stove top over medium-high heat.
Sear roast on all sides (1 to 2 minutes a side).
Place uncovered in oven and cook for approximately 20-25 minutes a pound (look for an internal temperature of about 130 degrees F).
Remove from oven, wrap in tin foil and let rest for a minimum of 5 minutes.
Slice and serve.

Notes: I like my lamb very rare, but others prefer it more on the medium rare side. When in doubt with guests go for the medium rare (remove from oven at 135F). On larger cuts of lamb, pierce the meat and insert fine slivers of fresh garlic and/or whole peppercorn. Always cook dry lamb roast with a meat thermometer–it eliminates guess work and gives better results (even if you overcook it, you’ll learn where the tipping point is and hopefully get it right the next time).

Aaron