A path of least resistance lamb shoulder


It took me less than twenty minutes of hands-on preparation. I timed it. This might even have come down to 15, had I used ready-ground spices, but, as many corners as I deliberately opted to cut here, pre-ground spices was one step I was not willing to take. So it took me 20 minutes, including grinding the spices. This being said, the spice call is everyone’s to make. The point here is the path of least resistance.

We need these types of dishes. I don’t mean the 10-minute weeknight dinner of frozen peas and fried egg, devoured alone, somewhat smugly and a tad self-consciously, under harsh kitchen lights. We need those too. I speak here of another kind of meal: a spectacular feast worthy of any guest (incidentally, here, fit to nourish at least six), that doesn’t require a week’s preparation. A meal that lithely slinks through the cracks of everyday life. Twenty minutes of work — and a day of foresight. Let time work its magic.


The recipe evolved gradually to become the most hands-off possible.

First, choose a boned lamb shoulder. I ask the butcher to give me the bones on the side, which I scatter around the dish while it simmers. But I want a boneless cut. For this meal, I can’t be bothered with carving the meat around the bone. That is how stress-free I intend this dish to be.

There is no browning of meat or onions. The ingredients, blithely cut, peeled, and chopped, are all tossed into the dish together with the meat, spices, and aromatics. The low, slow metamorphosis will happen undisturbed. Meanwhile, watch a film, learn the piano, fold the laundry — whatever suits your hobby.


A couple of hours later the meat is cooked. But resist touching it yet, it will have to cool, spend a while in the fridge, and wait for tomorrow until those guests arrive.


Lamb shoulder recipe
Must be made one day ahead

One boneless lamb shoulder, approx. 1.7kg (optionally with bones on the side)
4 or 5 onions
5 or 6 garlic cloves
A large piece of fresh ginger (or 1 Tbsp ground ginger)
2 lemons
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp and a generous sprinkling sea salt
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
1 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 Tbsp olive oil
Green castelvetrano olives
Prunes for a sweet touch (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Peel and slice the onions. Peel the garlic cloves. Peel and slice the ginger. Grate ribbons of lemon peel, then juice the lemons (reserve).

** If you have 10 minutes to spare, by all means take the time to brown the onions. It will only deepen the flavors. But it is fine, and more tagine-like, not to.**

Arrange the onions, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, and bay leaves at the bottom of a dutch oven large enough to hold the lamb shoulder. Sprinke generously with salt. Place the shoulder on top (and bones if using).

Grind the cumin and fennel seeds. Stir into a paste together with the turmeric, salt, olive oil, and lemon juice.  Rub the spice mixture over the lamb shoulder. Pour a little water at the bottom of the pan (about half an inch/ 1 cm).

Slide into the oven and cook, firmly covered, for 2 1/2 hours.

Remove from the oven. Let cool, and once cool place in the refridgerator overnight (or for a few hours at least).

Take the lamb shoulder out of the fridge approximately 2 hours before serving. Turn the oven on to 175°C (350°F). Scoop off the layer of fat that will have congealed and let the shoulder come to room temperature for about 1/2 hour. Sprinkle a handful of almonds and a handful of olives (and a handful of prunes, if using) over the lamb and slide into the oven for about 1 hour.

Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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