Spit roast: Spitalfields fusion lamb

lamb biryani with heritage vegetables

Ever since my walk around Spitalfields, I’ve been pondering over a dish that perfectly encapsulates the area’s rich heritage. It’s now a largely Bengali area, as anyone who has walked down Brick Lane will know, but it’s also housed Huguenot and Jewish refugees in its time. This dish references all those areas with saffron and wine from the Languedoc (a Huguenot hotspot during the Wars of Religion), a biryani-inspired dish to represent the Bengali community and, of course, the traditional sacrificial animal that is so key to Passover ceremonies.

I couldn’t resist the lure of purple carrots when I spotted them in the grocer. It was a food-first for me, but I can now confirm that they are delicious, albeit very different to your average-Joe carrot, sweeter and almost parsnip-like, but not as floury.

I spent £4 on lamb, £3.49 on wine and under £5 on vegetables (the total was £5.18, but I bought a couple of extra bits). The rice was 20p (40p per kilo). I’m going to allow double the amount of lamb to feed eight, so the cost of this dish is just over £2 per person, plus the store cupboard ingredients.

Serves: 8 (as long as you buy a big enough leg of lamb)

For the Biryani:

500g rice (I used long grain – 40p for a kilo! – but basmati would be better if you aren’t on a budget)

Half a small butternut squash, cut into chunks

1 pepper, cut into chunks

2 carrots, halved lengthways and cut into inch-long pieces

2 purple carrots, halved lengthways and cut into inch-long pieces

1 cauliflower, cut into small florets

A handful green beans, topped and tailed and cut into inch-long pieces

1 red onion, cut into eighths

1l vegetable stock

A pinch of saffron

1 red chilli, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tbsp spice paste (below)

2 tsp mustard seeds

2 cardamom pods

For the spice paste:

6 cloves garlic, halved

1 inch ginger, finely chopped

2 tsp chilli flakes

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

A generous pinch of salt and pepper

Zest of half a lemon

3 tbsp tomato purée

1 tbsp olive oil

For the lamb:

1 leg of lamb (mine was just under 800g, but if you buy a larger leg, you will be able to serve up to 8 people without upping the rice quota, and lamb is half price in Sainsburys right now)

3/4 bottle of white wine

500ml lamb stock (I used chicken, as that is all I had – although now I have a lovely lamb bone in the freezer ready to be turned into stock)

purple carrots - heritage vegetables

Pre-heat the oven to 190C. My oven is not very powerful, if you have an enthusiastic fan oven, you might want to reduce this to 170C after the first blast.

Put all of the spice paste ingredients in a pestle and mortar and bash the hell out of them until you have a relatively smooth paste.

Put a frying pan on the heat to warm while you make a series of incisions in the leg of lamb. Rub the spice mix all over the lamb, then sear on all sides in the hot pan.

Pop the lamb in a deep roasting tray and blast in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove, pour over the stock and wine, and cover tightly with foil. Return to the oven and leave it be for at least two hours (my leg was just under 800g, for larger legs, up the time accordingly; the overall aim is for a slow-cooked, fall off the bone and melt in your mouth texture).

Prep your vegetables and place all, except the cauliflower and green beans on a non-stick (or greased) baking tray and blast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until slightly softened and brown.

Combine the stock with the spice paste, chilli, lemon juice, saffron, cardamom and mustard seeds. In a deep oven dish or Pyrex (I had to divide the ingredients between two), pour in the rice, all the vegetables and stock mixture. Cover tightly and pop in the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, check on the rice and top up the liquid level with some of the lamb juices, if necessary, then return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked through and all the liquid has been absorbed.

Pop the lamb joint to rest on top of the rice, then reduce the wine/stock sauce to a thin gravy.

Bon appetit! Su tripti! Es gezunterheyt!

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