Lamb Mhammer (Wedding Dish From Fez)

One of the many highlights for us when traveling in Morocco, was visiting Fez.  We stayed at a beautiful, restored guesthouse located in the middle of the Medina, the carless and scooter-free old town.  Our phenomenal guesthouse, Riad Le Calife,  was steps from the winding and wonderful market (see previous post with photographs of the Fez Souk).  It was quite a pleasure pressing up against walls to avoid be stepped on by slow-moving, laden donkeys rather than jumping out of the way of scooters whipping through the souk in Marrakech.  Below are a few pictures of our amazing room.

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The riad offers a cooking program to interested guests.  The wonderful woman I spent the afternoon with in Fez was Fatima Slassi, a young,  professionally trained, Arab chef.  Quite a different background from the Berber chef I was with in Marrakech (see previous Chicken, Olive, Preserved Lemon Tagine post).  I took notes as we worked to get the ingredient ratio correct.  The quantity we produced was large, as the printable recipe below reflects.  It is fine to reduce the recipe to half or a quarter of the amount.  The method is the same.

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As we were cooking dinner for the Riad guests that evening, she purchased 5 pounds (2 1/2 kilo) of cut-up lamb thighs, although any lamb cut can be used.  If using a different cut, cooking time might vary.

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Garlic was diced and placed in a bowl. Ginger, sweet paprika, saffron, coriander,salt and pepper were measured out and added.

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The garlic and seasonings were mixed with just enough water to make a paste.

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Each piece of lamb was throughly coated.

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Red onions were diced (being the only ones in season).

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Then the seasoned lamb and diced onions were place in a pan.

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The mixture was stirred.

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A significant amount of olive oil was added along with enough water to barely cover the lamb.  The mixture was again stirred.

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In the interest of time, a pressure cooker was used but this dish could most certainly be braised in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid.  The pressure cooker lid was placed on and sealed.  The heat was cranked up to high for a few minutes until steam came out of the top.  The fire was then reduced and the lamb was braised for about 45 minutes.  It is done when the meat is tender.  If it is still tough, reseal the lid and continue cooking.  If not using a pressure cooker,  braising could take several hours.

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Time for a mint tea break.

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Once the meat is tender, remove the pieces from the liquid and place in a large baking dish.

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Dot with butter.  Place, uncovered, in a 180º C / 350ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

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While the lamb is baking,  turn the heat up on the remaining liquid.  Cook, uncovered, until it thickens.

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While the lamb is baking and the sauce reducing, add about 1/4 inch of olive oil to a skillet.  Heat to bubbling and add blanched (skinless) almonds.

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Fry until light golden brown.  Remove with a spider or slotted spoon.  Drain on a paper towel.

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Just before serving, stir some butter into the thickened sauce.  Add salt, if necessary.  Pour the sauce over the lamb and top with the cooked almonds.

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Lamb Mhammer (Wedding Dish From Fez)
 
Ingredients
  • 5 pounds / 2 ½ kilo lamb thigh, cut into individual serving size
  • 2 heads garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 to 11/2 tablespoons ginger
  • pinch of saffron
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt (add more at the end, if necessary)
  • 1 tablespoon water, or enough to make a spice paste
  • 6 medium red onions, diced
  • ½ to ¾ cups olive oil
  • 2 or more cups water (enough to almost cover the lamb in the pot)
  • ¼ cup butter, cubed to top lamb
  • ¼ cup butter to add to sauce
  • 1 cup blanched (skinless) whole almonds - see note below
  • olive oil for frying almonds
Instructions
  1. Dice garlic and place in a large bowl. Add ginger, sweet paprika, saffron, coriander, salt and pepper. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and combine to form a paste about as thick as honey.
  2. Add lamb pieces and thoroughly coat. Place the lamb in a pressure cooker or large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add diced onions, olive oil and just enough water to almost cover the lamb.
  3. If using a pressure cooker, seal the lid and turn the heat to high. When the bobble begins rocking, turn the heat down and simmer the meat about 45 minutes, until tender. If using a regular pot, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a steady simmer and cover. Cook several hours until the meat is tender, checking occasionally to ensure there is enough liquid. Add more water, if necessary.
  4. Once the meat is tender, remove the pieces from the liquid and place in a large baking dish. Dot with butter. Place, uncovered, in a 180 C oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. While the lamb is baking, turn the heat up on the remaining liquid. Cook, uncovered, until it thickens.
  6. While the lamb is simmering or when it is baking and the sauce reducing, add about ¼ inch of olive oil to a skillet. Heat to bubbling and add blanched (skinless) almonds. Fry until light golden brown. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon. Drain on a paper towel.
  7. Just before serving, stir some butter into the thickened sauce. Pour the sauce over the lamb and top with the cooked almonds.
  8. NOTE: To skin almonds, place the nuts in a large, heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and let sit for several minutes until the skin loosens. Drain. Squeeze each almond to release the nut from the skin.

 

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