Monday, April 20, 2009

Lamb tagine

Around a month ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to try making preserved lemons, which sounded easy and delicious. Once they were done, I figured, I'd make a tagine or something.

That came to fruition on the last Saturday of spring break, as my preserved lemons were ready just as I found a reasonably priced boneless leg of lamb. (None of the local grocery stores--C-town and Tops--carry lamb, weirdly, and Marlow & Daughters had a 4-pound leg for $52 (holy shit). The cheapest option appeared to be FreshDirect, sadly, which was offering a 5.75 lb piece for $7.99/lb plus $5.79 delivery fee. Then--lo and behold--I found a great grass-fed hippy-dippy boneless leg at the Park Slope Food Co-op for $6.04/lb. Perfect!)

The preserved lemons were the easiest part. You just cut 'em into quarters almost--but not quite--all the way through, so you can spread them open like a flower, and then pack them with kosher salt. Stuff them into a Mason jar and fill it with lemon juice until the lemons are all covered. Leave it in the fridge for three days, add more lemon juice if necessary, and store it in a dark place for four weeks (flipping it once or twice during that time). When you're ready to use them, scrape out and throw away the pulp, rinse off the rinds (they grow a little white mold sometimes--no problem, just rinse it off), and cut them up. The rinds have become soft and translucent and broken-down and can be eaten like salty candy or cooked into oblivion.

I used Claudia Roden's lamb tagine recipe, basically combining three different versions: the mishmishiyya (apricot) tagine, the prunes-and-honey tagine, and the preserved-lemons-and-tomatoes tagine. I put the raw lamb chunks, onions, garlic, spices, and oil in my Dutch oven and covered them with water, cooking for around 1.5 hrs until the meat was beginning to fall apart. Then I added the preserved lemon pieces, prunes & apricots, tomatoes, etc. and finished it off with another 40 minutes to thicken the sauce, stirring in some honey at the last minute.

I'd also found some fresh fava beans at the co-op, which I'd never cooked before; after some advice from the Internet, I tossed them with olive oil and lots of kosher salt and stuck them under the broiler to blacken. Priya rounded out the meal with some Israeli couscous cooked in chicken broth with caramelized onions--something quick and delicious she could make while she worked on her thesis (due in a week!).

It ended up being a fantastic dinner, with a ton of leftovers (I ate it a few more times, froze some, and brought Toby and Yuko a couple of servings). I think the tagine could've had a thicker sauce--maybe if I had had more time I could've cooked it down more--but the flavors were just right, and this marked the first time I've cooked lamb in nearly four years, I think (I used to make lamb vindaloo all the time in Boston, but never found a satisfactory butcher here in NYC...)

After emptying out my jar of preserved lemons, I immediately put three more in, so in four weeks maybe I'll make a chicken tagine or something!

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