This was a dish we cooked before the Covid-19 crisis hit Europe – and it is a reminder of those ‘heady days’ when we could just go out to buy meat, herbs or spices rather than having to think of the social consequences of doing that. We are still publishing this one though as if you have something suitable in the freezer you may just want to give it a go (with this herb and spice mix – or your own variation of what ever you have to hand in the cupboard!!) Also as this whole lamb shoulder was cooked in 3 sections – if there are only a couple of you in the house you may want to scale down the recipe accordingly – and perhaps just use one of the thirds!!
So how did this one come about?
“What would you like to eat when you come up next week Sam” we said to our eldest daughter. Without pausing for a breath the answer was Lamb Shawarma. It is always a nice challenge to cook a ‘request dish’ – and we have cooked a lot of chicken Shawarma (see recipe here) Suggesting chicken as an alternative didn’t gain any traction with Sam, and so Lamb Shawarma it was to be! Shawarma is a dish of Middle Eastern origin. The meat is traditionally cut into thin slices and stacked in a cone shape and then roasted slowly on a vertical rotisserie or spit. The word Shawarma is perhaps a corruption of the Turkish word to rotate or revolve as the traditional spit does.
We were pondering the cut of lamb to use when Sam also asked if we could use a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe as she had had it some time ago and loved it. Interestingly, the recipe is all over the internet and seems to stem from a cookbook by Ottolenghi & Tamimi called Jerusalem. The original recipe uses a leg of lamb on the bone (as most people don’t have a vertical rotisserie) and a spicy herb mix sometimes referred to as Lebanese spice mix which works with so many things – We have modified the mix slightly as I am very sensitive to paprika – but I have given the original proportions in the recipe section. This mix is also supposed to work well with chicken and although we have not tried it yet: fish and vegetables!
With the help of the team from ‘Charlotte’s Butchery’, namely on this occasion Charlotte’s brother Jamie we spent some time deciding which cut of lamb to use as we were cooking on the Big Green Egg and we also had a Shawarma Spike which we had had made for us some time ago specifically for use on the EGG.
We wanted to get closer to a traditional Shawarma and not use whole bone in joints. We also know that getting hold of a suitable spike to cook with on the BGE is not straightforward. Therefore we wanted something that was ‘Shawarma like’ in the form of a vertical pile of meat – but something that could reasonably be done with or without a special spike!
Jamie suggested using a whole rolled shoulder of lamb but cut into sections so each section could be marinated all over with the spice mix. We took that one stage further by also slashing into the sides of the meat cylinder so we could push the spice mix in there too.
Clearly we could have just unrolled the shoulder, added the spice mix and re-rolled the joint. But we wanted to see if this easier method would work for those people not enjoying the idea of tying their own meat joints!
So once we had decided on the meat and cut it into 3 cylinders the next thing was to make the spicy marinade mix. The first 8 ingredients in the list (black peppercorns, whole cloves, cardamom pods, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, star anise, cinnamon stick) were added to a cast-iron pan and dry-roasted on medium-high heat. This was done for a minute or two, until the spices begin to pop and release their aromas. The important thing here is to make sure they don’t burn.
If you don’t have any of these – do a bit of googling for substitute suggestions – or just leave it out. It will still be fine, just a little different! Then we added the nutmeg, ginger, and paprika and tossed this with the rest for a few more seconds to heat them. The whole mix was then put in a spice grinder (small food processor) and blitzed the mix to a powder. All that was left to do was add this powder to a bowl and to stir in all the remaining ingredients, apart from the lamb and the water (sumac, salt, fresh ginger, garlic , fresh coriander, lemon juice and peanut oil).
The marinade was then massaged into all the surfaces of the meat and it was left in a covered tray to marinade overnight. Clearly if you are making a smaller S hawarma then just marinade the amount of meat you need (but do remember this works really well cold too)
The following day the Big green egg was set up to cook indirectly at between 150-160C (the original recipe suggests 170C and that would be fine too and give a shorter cooking time – but we weren’t in any hurry!! If you are using a Shawarma spike we have found it helpful to add half an onion to the spike first to lift the meat off the base. The base can become hotter than you perhaps want even when cooking indirectly. (If you are cooking with out a spike then I would suggest stacking 2 or 3 pieces on top of each other in a roasting tin and pushing a skewer through the pieces from the top to hold it together.) The whole thing was topped off with the remains of the squeezed lemon on the top.
All that was left to do therefore was wait and enjoy the aroma coming from the EGG! Every hour or so we basted the meat stack with the juice collecting in the roasting dish, to which we had added a little water to prevent burning. Once the outside had developed that lovely crusty brown colour we loosely wrapped the top with foil just to make sure the spices didn’t burn while we waited for the core temperature to rise to the mid to high 80sC. We were wanting soft cuttable, but not pullable lamb!!
Once we got to the core temperature the lamb was removed and allowed to rest for at least 10 mins. We actually wanted to keep it warm for longer before we served it – so we wrapped it in foil, covered it with some clean tea towels and put it into an empty ‘cool box’. This way were were able to let it rest for more than an hour until we needed it (the larger the mass of meat the longer you can keep it warm in this way!!).
When we were ready to eat the meat was carved – this was made so much easier with the Shawarma being in 3 distinct sections. Each being taken out of the cool box and carved when needed.
It was served on a cutting board with a green salad. Eaten with a flat bread and some freshly made humus and a squeeze of fresh lemon was perfect!!
Footnote: – This is a great dish served hot as above, but is also fantastic served cold. Indeed some of the team thought it was better cold than hot! But there is only one way for you to decide which you prefer!!
Footnote: I have been trying to trace a supplier for a Shawarma spike in the UK. I found one this week and have ordered one to try. Although I have not yet used it it looks and feels very good – I have added a link here they refer to it as a Gyrospike. We will review the spike in due course – gyrospike.co.uk
A slow cooked Shawarma using boned lamb shoulder which you can cook with or without a Shawarma Spike
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 5 whole cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 whole star anise
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 whole nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 2 1/2 teaspoons Maldon salt
- 1 ounce fresh ginger — grated
- 3 cloves garlic — crushed
- Big bunch of coriander — chopped stems and leaves
- Juice of a lemon
- Good plug of oil, rapeseed or groundnut oil works well
- Rolled boned shoulder of lamb
- A little water to add to the roasting pan to prevent lamb juices burning
- Step 1 Take the rolled whole shoulder of lamb and cut into 3 cylinders that can be stacked vertically. Also ‘slash’ into the sides of the cylinders so that they can absorb more of the marinade
- Step 2 Mix the first 8 ingredients in the list (black peppercorns, whole cloves, cardamom pods, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, star anise, cinnamon stick) and add to a cast-iron pan and dry-roast on medium-high heat for a minute or two. The spices will begin to pop and release their aromas. Don’t let them burn. Then add the nutmeg, ginger, and paprika and tossed this with the rest for a few more seconds. Put the whole into a spice grinder (small food processor) and blitzed the mix to a powder. Add this powder to a bowl and to stir in sumac, salt, fresh ginger, garlic , fresh coriander, lemon juice and oil.
- Step 3 Massage the marinade into all the surfaces of the meat and leave in a covered tray to marinade (ideally) overnight.
- Step 4 The ext day light the Big Green Egg and set up to cook indirectly at between 150-160C (Can also be done at a higher temp as suggested in the original recipe e.g. 170C to give a shorter cooking time – adjust accordingly)
- Step 5 If you are using a Shawarma spike add half an onion to the spike first to lift the meat off the base. The base can become hotter than you perhaps want even when cooking indirectly. (If you are cooking with out a spike then stack 2 or 3 pieces on top of each other in a roasting tin and push a skewer through the pieces from the top to hold it together.) Top off with the remains of the squeezed lemon on the top.
- Step 6 Once the temperature in the BGE has stabilised introduce the shawarma and leave to cook. Every hour or so baste the meat stack withe the juice collecting in the roasting dish. It may be wise to add a little water to the dish to stop the juices burning.
- Step 7 Once the outside has developed that lovely crusty brown colour loosely wrap the top with foil just to make sure the spices don’t burn
- Step 8 Cook till the core temperature reaches around 85-88C if it goes much higher the the lamb will ‘Pull” whereas the plan is to cut the meat but this is a matter of personal taste
- Step 9 Remove from the heat and allow to rest for at least 10 mins – it can be rested for much longer if wrapped in foil, covered with tea towels and placed in a coolbox. Carve when ready to eat and serve with a green salad and flat breads