Recipe, photography & styling by Tanya Zouev.
Recipes solely about meat are not something I write about often. On the contrary I encourage my readers to pad out their meat dishes with bucket loads of vegetables to make animal protein go a long, long way. Sometimes however, an idea for a recipe comes along where meat just has to be the star and this is one of those. I love lamb and I love Greek food, and Greeks are particularly well known for the way in which they prepare it. I have fond memories of growing up in Melbourne with my best friend Eva and partaking in the feasting of many delicious lambs-on-the-spit that her Greek parents prepared in their backyard. I remember her mother Rebecca, tearing chunks off the lamb and passing the meat to me, joy on her face at having cooked such a beautiful thing.
I adore Greek people and their undying passion for food. The ancient Greeks, though I’ve never met one, I’m sure were amazing people as well. When you think about how much of the English language for example, is made up of Greek words, it clearly demonstrates how influential they were. They certainly knew how to get around in their day, and they probably took their lamb dishes with them, setting up spit roasts wherever their journeys happened to end up. Which brings me to this interesting bit of history. Did you know that Greeks actually used to occupy parts of India? It was quite some time ago (around 2200 years to be exact) so you can be forgiven if you didn’t know this fact. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me, but what does, is how us humans managed to get around such huge distances at one time without the assistance of Virgin or Jetstar.
I also happen to love food history and diaspora (a Greek word) and it’s the kind of thing that I think about often. (Diaspora is one of my favourite words and if you’re wondering exactly what it means, here is a very good explanation and how it relates to food.) I decided to research the Greeks and their passage to India and I began to wonder what the food would have tasted like. How did they get there? Did they share food with the Indian people and get to know each other over a roast or a curry? Did they intersperse their religions? If so, were statues of Zeus placed alongside those of Ganesh in the temples? And what exactly did the Indians think of the Greeks hanging around in their country anyway? Did the Greeks bring oregano and haloumi with them? Ouzo? Maybe a bouzouki?
This interesting historical fact (and my runaway imagination) inspired this recipe for a slow-cooked lamb shoulder and I’ve combined traditional Greek herbs with two popular spices used in Indian cooking, bay leaves and fennel seeds. For years I’ve slow cooked lamb in my mother’s 1970’s Enzo Mari Le Creuset casserole and I think that this recipe is the best one yet. There are a couple of things you need to do however to ensure it’s perfection, the first of which is to leave the lamb in the marinade overnight (in the fridge) to get the best flavour. You also need to follow the cooking method exactly as indicated below as this will yield a joint with incredibly tender meat and heavenly caramelised roasty bits.
The acid in the red wine vinegar tenderises the meat and combined with the long slow roasting time turns it into the most incredible melt in the mouth experience. I find that eating this dish makes me want to channel my inner cave woman, leather loin-cloth and all. (I once went to a party as one, I have pictures to prove it.) There’s something positively primal about standing over the pan picking the flesh apart and dipping it into the fat before eating it (I highly recommend this). I don’t do this very often, but it’s something I enjoy when I do. Or perhaps this is an endeavour that is just plain uncivilised, something that the ancient Greeks wouldn’t have approved of in the least. But then again, who cares? They’re not around to see, so go ahead, do it anyway.
Serves 6-8. Prep time: 20 mins. Cooking time: 9 hours (plus marinating time).
2 kilo (approxinately 4.5 pounds) lamb shoulder, bone-in.
3 whole dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried wild oregano (available at Greek and European deli’s, please use this rather than ordinary dried oregano as the flavour is superior)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
salt to taste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons macadamia oil *
drizzle of olive oil at the end of cooking time
1. Wash the lamb shoulder and pat dry with kitchen towel. Make deep slashes about one inch in several areas over the joint so that you can rub the marinade into the meat. Place the lamb into a non-reactive casserole, ideally an enamelled cast iron pan.
2. In a spice grinder, grind the bay leaves, garlic powder, wild oregano, thyme, fennel seeds and black peppercorns until everything is a fine powder. Combine this with the red wine vinegar and macadamia oil.
3. Salt the lamb well, then pour the marinade over the meat, making sure you rub the marinade into the slashes. Cover the casserole in a sheet of foil, then place the lid over it tightly.
4. Leave the lamb shoulder in the marinade in the fridge overnight.
5. The next day preheat the oven to 125˚C (approximately 250˚F). Cook the lamb for 8 hours covered in the casserole pan, then remove the lid and foil. Turn the oven up to 200˚C (approximately 390˚F) and cook the lamb for a further 60 minutes, basting every 15 minutes. This will reduce the juices and caramelise the meat.
6. When cooked, shred the flesh loosely and drizzle olive oil over before serving. Serve with lemon wedges and lots of salad. (This lamb tastes amazing with a Greek salad or an Indian raita alike.)
* I use macadamia oil because of its low Omega-6 levels and it is very stable at temperatures up to around 220˚C. In the past I would have used olive oil to marinate and cook with, however after much research to find that olive oil is better to eat in its raw form, I have converted to macadamia for general cooking. Mark Sisson has a great explanation about macadamia oil here if you’re interested in learning more.
Photography and styling notes:
In keeping with the primal nature of a big roasted hunk of meat, I decided to keep this image very simple. An old weathered cutting board that I found on the street in a trash collection serves as the background along with two forks. The image was shot on a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70mm lens (set to 70mm). The only light used in this image is daylight.