This crispy lamb salad can be easily scaled up for big numbers, and will sit happily waiting to be eaten
You know when you hanker after a certain dish that you see every now and then in a cookbook, but when you look at the length of time it takes to cook, or the five million steps you have to go through, you have a change of heart? The candied and pulled pork that taunts me in US restaurateur David Chang’s book looks pretty amazing, but the effort and time it takes seems too much for home cooking. Best leave that one to the professionals.
Sometimes I see lamb dishes like that, piled into some pita bread, and you imagine how wonderful it would taste, but attempts can be less successful.
However, I was gazing recently at a lamb and couscous salad from Heston Blumenthal and I liked the basic principles. Needless to say, I eliminated plenty of the prep and did a final bit of roasting and grilling that gave the lamb a crisp, caramelised edge that made it unbelievably moreish. The dish resembled the crispy duck you get in Chinese restaurants, but not as fatty, and much tastier.
Giant couscous is a great starchy salad that is well worth trying. It holds up well to strong flavours and doesn’t seem to suck all the flavours out of everything around it.
I brought this dish over to a friend’s house for dinner and it held up well, sitting out for most of the evening and it still held its flavour together. I had been hoping to bring the lamb remains home to eat in a pita bread, soaked with delicious tzatziki and some sort of chopped Greek salad and maybe a big blob of hummus, but my friend’s husband took the leftovers upstairs to his office and scoffed the lot, on the pretence that he didn’t want to disturb us ladies.
Lamb shanks are ideal to use once you cook them for long enough, pull the meat away, douse it with seasonings and grill the heck out of it. Long, slow cooking means all the fat and collagen break down. But be warned. Keep cooking until the meat really is falling off the bones. The second time I made this, they took two hours longer to cook than the first time. So start this the day before you want to eat it – at least the simmering part.
The salad is very quick to throw together, but you need to allow anything between three and five hours for the lamb to become tender enough.
CRISP SHREDDED LAMB
At least 2.5 litres chicken stock
4 lamb shanks
1-2 tsp mild curry powder
Pinch chilli flakes
Cook the lamb shanks in the chicken stock with the rosemary in a large saucepan with a lid – bring up to gentle simmer and cook on the stove for at least three hours. You can turn them over every 30 minutes or so, making sure they are well submerged. If you need to add more water, then do. You can also skim away any scum that appears on the surface. Make sure it is gently simmering rather than boiling rapidly. The meat should pull away with no effort when it’s cooked, so let nature and cooking take its course.
When the meat is genuinely falling off the bones, let them settle down and cool down a little. Put them in a large roasting pan, discard the stock and shred the meat off the bone, probably using a fork. You can discard any really fatty bits. But you will be amazed how much meat there is.
Drizzle the lamb generously with olive oil, some salt and pepper, chilli flakes, curry powder and a good squeeze of honey. Toss and mix around in the roasting tin. You can let it cool down at this stage and then refrigerate overnight, or keep going by preheating an oven to 200 degrees/gas 6 and roasting it for about 20 minutes or so, uncovered.
You’ll have to remove it from the oven and mix it around so that it crisps up evenly. You may well find your grill is helpful and adding more honey will crisp and caramelise it even further. Just remember to balance out the sweetness with some salt and pepper. Serve warm in a big bowl alongside the salad or mix through the couscous salad.
1 large onion, peeled and diced
Splash olive oil
400g giant couscous
Very large bunch of each: parsley, coriander, basil
100ml olive oil
50ml sherry vinegar
3 tsp Dijon mustard
Good squeeze of honey
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Salt and pepper
In a large heavy-based saucepan, sweat the onion in the olive oil until soft, but not coloured. Add the couscous and mix well so that the grains get coated and take on a bit of flavour. Season them well. Add plenty of boiling water, bring to the boil and then cook for about 10 minutes. Check the instructions on the pack, but it’s usually 10-12 minutes. Drain the couscous well, then tip it into a large bowl and lightly mix with a fork.
Mix the ingredients for the dressing together and pour on to the couscous. Season very well.
At this stage, you can mix it with some of the crisp lamb, but if you are eating it as a salad, let it cool down and then add the pomegranate juice and seeds which will sweeten and cool it down further. Taste and then add the chopped herbs. You can adjust the seasoning further by adding some lemon juice or more sherry or red wine vinegar. This salad is best served at room temperature.
DOMINI RECOMMENDS:Great to see Blazing Salads bread back in well-stocked stores, especially their delicious rye bread. I saw it in Donnybrook Fair, Dublin 4. You can also buy it at the Blazing Salads store on Drury Street, Dublin 2