The financial crisis has been making itself felt in headlines and households around the world, and its presence is beginning to seep into my kitchen. I'm becoming conscious that each grocery bill seems to crawl its way upward even though I'm not buying anything extra. I think about how I'm Eating For Two now and will soon have Another Mouth To Feed, neither of which feels like good timing (but when are life's timings perfect?).
We were due to have some friends around last weekend for a Sunday lunch, which set Mr A&N and me to planning our menu and thinking with our extravagant hats on rather than our financial crisis ones. Though we've been fairly good at reducing the amount of meat we eat during a normal week, having guests and hosting a Sunday lunch practically obliges meat to be on the menu (unless, of course, you're hosting vegetarians). It was a commitment, a bit of a splurge, but leg of lamb went on to the menu, one large enough to feed 5 adults, 2 of whom were 30+ weeks pregnant. Big things would be expected from this lamb.
This being lamb, it seemed that marrying lamb with Middle Eastern flavors would be clever move, and out came the trusty Moro cookbook, a repository of never-fail recipes with a Middle Eastern/Spanish vibe. A simple marinade would do, to bring out the flavors of the lamb without distracting from the main show. The marinade Moro suggests can be used with just about any cut of lamb, and takes its flavor from lemon, thyme, red wine vinegar and paprika. The lamb is slow cooked and topped up with water to keep the meat moist and create a nice sauce in the pan.
And then the financial crisis hit, but in a different way from expected. Of the 3 friends coming around, 2 were lawyers and both were called into the office all weekend to work on emergency financial bail-out packages. The lamb was marinating but there were no guests to eat it, and however indulgent I am with my food, sharing a 6lb leg of lamb between two people seemed an indulgence too far.
We instead called up our good friends down the road on the chance they were free that night, and offered to cook and ferry the food round to theirs if they'd be willing to help us eat it all. They didn't say no (would you?), though Mr A&N did leave a warning in my ears: the lamb would make its way down the road, but there wouldn't be much of it making its way back down. This was because we were heading to see Mr A&N's best friend, known for having an appetite that could rival Homer Simpson (though fortunately for him without Homer's looks or girth). His one-year-old son takes after his father, and for a typical breakfast eats two whole wheat cereal biscuits, two pieces of toast, and one banana, followed an hour and a half later by a banana and yogurt top-up, followed an hour and a half after that by a full lunch. And to think I get twitchy about our grocery bills.
The slow-cooking and marinating gave us juicy and salty meat and a nicely intense gravy from the left-overs of the marinade. I watched as slice after slice of the lamb disappeared - pleased that it was going down well, but wondering when the two men would put the brakes on the eating and let the poor lamb be. It took about 45 minutes of concerted effort, but in the end all that was left was the bone. Not only did Mr A&N's friend make short work of this 6lb lamb leg, but Mr A&N joined him in the meat-based debauchery. With many more meals like this we'll be feeling the financial pinch pinching very tightly, but at least we'll go broke with a contended belly and a full smile on our greasy lips.
Lamb Marinade, from Casa Moro
serves 6-8 (...supposedly)
- 2.5kg / 6 lb leg or shoulder of lamb (can also use other cuts of lamb)
- 4 garlic cloves
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
- 4 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 medium red onion, well grated
- 2 tsps sweet paprika
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- Lightly score the lamb to help the marinade seep into it.
- Mix all the marinade ingredients together (except for the olive oil). Season with salt and pepper (about 2 tsps of salt per kilo) and rub into the lamb.
- Add the olive oil on top and leave to marinate for a minimum of 2 hours, or ideally in the fridge overnight, turning occasionally to coat the meat well.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160 C / 325 F.
- Cook the lamb in a large roasting tray, adding in a small glass of water (about 125ml) after the first half hour of cooking and another glass of water after each subsequent hour. Baste the lamb every 45 minutes or so.
- After around 3 hours, test the lamb for tenderness by inserting a skewer deep into the meat. If it feels soft and has a good amount of 'give', it is done.
- Leave to rest for 15 minutes before carving.