On our recent trip, S and I spent 3 days visiting a friend in Dubai. Our friend CC co-owns the coolest (contemporary) art gallery in town and if you are ever in that area, you must check out her cool space, called The Third Line. While there, we enjoyed several excellent meals. We passed a lovely afternoon with Chef Christophe Widmer, Executive Pastry Chef at the Shangri-La Hotel. Chris, whose blog Sugar Head is simple, insightful, humorous at times, and always filled with beautiful pictures, hosted us at his hotel’s excellent international seafood restaurant Amwaj. We also had a great, casual meal at Wafi Gourmet, a Middle Eastern restaurant cum gourmet market in Wafi City, a rather amusing property development built around a modern Pyramid. Our one disappointing meal, sadly, was at Ottomans, in the bustling Grosvenor House Hotel. While we were told that this Turkish restaurant was good, we found the food mediocre and expensive.
Our best meal of the visit, on the other hand, was at the fabulously designed, fashionable and cool Almaz by Momo, smartly tucked away in a corner of Harvey Nichols in the Mall of the Emirates. Beirut-based designer Annabel Karim Kassar has helped Algerian restaurateur Mourad Mazouz create what is not only one of the hippest restaurants in Dubai, but also one of the hippest I have seen around the world. The restaurant is unlicensed, which means it does not serve alcohol. That means that unlike many of the other chic restaurants spread around Dubai that are usually packed not with locals but with expats, this place is ultra-popular with Emiratees and other Arabs. It was, to me, really great to dine in a place that was filled with so many locals, and all of them, from what I could tell, having a great time. The food here is North African — mostly Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian. And while we (our friend CC and her local friend M dined with us) shared many dishes, the one that blew me away was the lamb mechoui, served with cous-cous and vegetable broth. Now, I should add two things here. (1) Lamb is probably my second favorite meat (pork is first, as regular readers know). (2) In general, all of the lamb we ate in Dubai was outstanding; I was left with total respect for the Arabian understanding of how best to cook this meat. The mechoui, made with shoulder of lamb, was fork-tender and full of flavour. It was juicy and moist and I was swooning with every bite, it was that good. I swore there and then to learn how to make this dish.
Since returning home, I have learnt that “mechoui” actually refers to an actual lamb or mutton, roasted whole and either on a spit over an open flame or roasted in a mud oven dug in the ground. The former method is Algerian while the latter is Moroccan and Tunisian. The version I had eaten was most likely a variation of the Moroccan style. Before leaving on our month-long journey, S and I had invited a few friends to dine with us on the weekend of our return (yes, we are a bit nuts). We decided that we would try making and serving mechoui for these friends. We borrowed a copy of Mourad Mazouz’s The Momo Cookbook from our dear friend J (the great thing about having a neighbor with over 500 cookbooks is that she’s bound to have a copy of whatever you’re looking for) and dove right in.
Mazouz’s recipe suggests serving the lamb with either cous-cous or potato gratin. S opted for the latter and shaped small circles of potato, which we baked in the oven until crisp and tender. I had purchased a nice, fatty lamb shoulder from Indoguna, one of the best distributors of meats, seafood and other gourmet products in Singapore. Mazouz’s recipe, which calls for the meat to be cooked in pieces but still on the bone, worked well. We deboned the meat into small pieces and served them atop the individual potato gratins, as pictured at the start of the post. If you’re a lamb lover like me, this is one recipe you should print and/or save. I plan on making this again and again.
Mechoui with herbs, recipe tweaked from The Momo Cookbook by Mourad Mazouz
Serves 4 hungry people as a main course or 6-8 people if serving small courses
5 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
5 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
200g unsalted butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, finely crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
Lamb shoulder on the bone, cut by your butcher into 4 approximately 350-400g pieces
50ml olive or vegetable oil
100ml plus 2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cornflour or potato flour
(optional) raisins for garnish
fleur de sel for finishing touch
Salt and pepper the lamb pieces. Preheat the oven to 180 Degrees C. Set aside 1 teaspoon of coriander and 1 teaspoon of parsley for garnish. Mix the butter with the garlic, remaining coriander, parsley, thyme, cumin and paprika. Rub this all over the lamb pieces.
Put the lamb on a roasting dish brushed with the oil. Add the 100ml of water to the dish and pop it in the oven for 35 minutes. Every 10 minutes or so, turn the pieces of lamb so that they brown evenly. Then lower the heat to 150 Degrees C. Cover the lamb with foil and pop it back into the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes or until the lamb is soft and tender. After the first 30-40 minutes, try and quickly turn the pieces.
Remove the meat from the oven, keep it aside and covered with foil. Try to remove the fat from the meat juices and pour the juices into a small pan. In a separate bowl, mix the 2 tablespoons of water with the cornflour or potato flour before adding it to the juices. Reduce the sauce over high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring. Before serving, sieve it once.
To serve, drizzle the sauce over the meat and garnish with coriander and parsley. Top with some raisins if you want and finish off with a tiny touch of fleur de sel.