The first step to making a meltingly tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb shoulder is obvious: find a decent butcher, who won’t sell you feedlot lamb. This recipe relies on minimal seasoning and precious little effort from the cook’s side, since all the lovely rich and herbal flavours infused in your free-range lamb will come to the fore with tender, slow and loooong cooking. The key is low, low heat and very long cooking in a closed roasting dish. ( Have some Le Creusets? Now’s your time to use them.) Use bone-in lamb, since that’s where a lot of the flavour comes from, and as the bone heats up, it helps to cook the meat evenly from inside too.
Yesterday I tried the recipe at 20 C higher temperature than usual, simply because I wanted to check the results. It was a bit less tender than when cooked at 140 C – about 20% – so I would recommend that you stick to 140 C and no more. Remember that fan-driven ovens are generally 10 degrees hotter, so compensate by turning your fan oven 10 C lower than the recipe requires. Or turn the fan off.
Apart from the obvious benefits of it being a ridiculously easy recipe, this dish perfumes the house with a such a maddening aroma of pure essence of lamb, you will find yourself checking its progress in the oven more often than you need to. But do check in from time to time, though, just to make sure there’s always at least 2 cm of liquid in the bottom of the roaster. This is slowly going to turn into one of the most delicious gravies you will ever have in your life.
The shoulder I cooked was about 2,8 kg and fed 8 people. Remember that the meat will lose up to 25% of its volume while cooking.
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb
Serves 8 -10
2.8 kg shoulder of lamb, prepared with excess fat removed (ask your butcher to chine the bones for you)
3 T (45 ml) brown or white vinegar
1 T (15 ml) Maldon salt or sea salt
2 T (30 ml) caramel sugar (the light golden one, not the sticky treacly one)
1 T (15 ml) barbecue spice
1 t (5 ml) mixed spice
1 whole lemon, chopped into 8 pieces
2 medium onions, chopped into large chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3-4 large, whole garlic cloves
fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs
6 fresh bay leaves
1. Turn the oven on to 140 C. No need to preheat, as long as the meat is at room temperature. Place the lamb in a lidded oven roaster (we all use them for braais, the cheap ones with dimples in the lid and bottom, remember?) and sprinkle all over with the vinegar. Make sure to rub it in.
2. Grind the salt flakes, sugar and barbecue spice together and rub all over the meat, covering the whole surface. Put the lemon, garlic and all the vegetables around the lamb, arrange the herbs on top and pour 2 cups of water around the lamb. Season liberally with black pepper, put the lid on, and place in the oven at 140 C for 8 hours.
Remember to check the meat from time to time, to make sure there is at least 2 cm of liquid in the bottom. You can turn the lamb halfway through the cooking process, but no more, as it will fall apart.
Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of cooking to brown lamb beautifully.
That’s it. You have made slow-roast lamb, congratulations!
Cook’s Tip: You can use leg of lamb of this, on the bone, but cook for about 4-5 hours.
GRAVY: scoop out the vegetables from the cooking juices and rapidly reduce the jus to concentrate the flavour. Season to taste and serve with lots of roast potatoes!