Slow roasted meat must be one the best ways to cook for friends on a Sunday, or any day of the week for that matter.
While your lovely guests are busily telling you about their recent holiday/school problems, new love affair or labrador puppy, the last thing you want to be doing is gazing wistfully into the glass oven door, waiting for the soufflé to fall or worrying that you are going to be remembered for your soggy bottom rather than your sparkling wit and generous hospitality.
The airwaves close down while you are focussing on the food you have spent a week planning to the nth degree. You pretend you are all ears, but it is impossible to listen intently to the conversation in the background. With glass of red in one hand and an oven glove in the other your mind is whirring with timings and decisions on whether to refill the nibbles, wondering what the kids are up to upstairs and hoping the dog isn’t sitting on the visiting baby.
After a tearful outpouring of grief by the new neighbour, recounting every aspect of the recent sad departure of her darling Tibbles, suddenly turning around with a smile and shouting ‘How Lovely’ will certainly make for a strained afternoon around the dining table.
So this is the perfect answer. Put it in the oven four hours before the guests arrive. This will give you plenty of time to prepare the veg/salad/sides. Do whatever fluffing up needs doing around the house and get yourself ready so when the doorbell rings you look nonchalantly in control, like the organised domestic goddess you are.
If you are new to all this cooking lark and worry about cooking for guests, don’t overstretch yourself by doing something outside of your comfort range. Choose something simple that is well within your limits to keep the stress at bay. Usually, the more stressed the cook, the quicker the alcohol goes down which adds even more fuel to the fire, a surefire recipe for disaster in all departments.
Something like this lamb or a beautifully roasted chicken served with a salad followed by seasonal fruits and a good quality ice-cream or a well thought out cheeseboard will please most people. If it doesn’t, they are extremely ungrateful and I wouldn’t invite them back (unless they are vegetarian of course). If nicely presented with a little love and attention, no-one will think you haven’t made the effort. It will be delicious.
Simple can be very, very good indeed. Opting for homemade lobster ravioli and croquembouche complete with spun sugar at the the first attempt will surely end in tears (or maybe not!). Start with the basics and you will soon feel confident and accomplished enough to attempt more complicated recipes.
This shoulder of lamb was fresh from the the field about two miles from where I live. A beautiful piece of meat and one to be shared with friends. When cooking meat for this mount of time, 10 minutes here or there does not matter and when it is cooked it will sit quite happily for 20-30 minutes with a lid on top or or covered with foil. It will not go cold as some people seem to worry about, the meat will just relax and become even more tender. There is even no need to argue about who is going to carve the meat, a job no-one ever seems to want to do in my house. The meat is so succulent and tender it just pulls off the bone with a fork so everyone can help themselves. I find children like doing this too, perhaps they find it a grown-up thing to do, without waiting for an adult to put it on their plates.
You can probably tell by now I am a big fan of this way of cooking meat. It has never failed me and that is why it has been my favourite method of cooking large lamb and pork joints like this for many years.
This recipe, inspired originally by a Nigel Slater recipe but adapted slightly, has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour and the dish worked really well with a simple warm chickpea puree, whizzed with some olive oil and a little cayenne. I served alongside roasted vegetables (parsnips, beetroot, squash and carrots) with a bowl of Greek yoghurt quickly mixed with a tablespoon of spicy Harissa paste. It was a lovely stress-free feast, both on the eye and the tastebuds and most importantly allowed me to be fully attentive to my lovely guests.
As with all roasts, I made sure to take the meat out of the fridge a good half an hour before cooking to bring it up to room temperature and let it have a good rest after taking it of the oven.
That joint of meat has probably cost you a decent amount of hard earned money, look after it properly and it will repay you with a priceless eating experience.
- Shoulder of Lamb (around 2.3 -2.5kg)
- 3-4 Cloves of Garlic
- 1 Tbs Sea Salt
- 1 Tbs Cumin Seeds
- 2 tsp Dried Mint
- 1 Tbs Dried Thyme
- Pinch of Turmeric
- 2 Tbs Olive Oil
- A large knob of butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 160C
- Put the joint in the casserole dish.
- In a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic with the salt.
- And the rest of the herbs then the oil.
- Mix in the butter.
- Rub the meat all over with the paste.
- Cook for 30 minutes.
- Add a cup of water to the bottom of the pan, baste the joint then cover and return to the oven.
- Cook for a further 2½ hours, basting occasionally.
- Remove the lid and cook for a further 30 minutes to reduce the liquid.
- Remove from the oven. Take the meat out of the pan and tip out the excess oil.
- Return the meat to the pan. Cover and leave for at least 15 minutes.
- Put the meat on a carving plate.
- Stir a cup of boiling water into the residue at the bottom of the pan. This will be full and flavour and makes a delicious gravy to pour over the meat.