Monday, 10 April 2017

BBQ Chermoula Marinated Leg of Lamb

Pink lamb with charred crust

Let’s be honest, barbecuing is a bit of a boys’ club. Maybe it’s got something to do with all the fire and all the meat, but barbecues conjure images of big, sweaty men, swigging from beer cans while prodding hot coals. Drawn, blinking, out of their homes by the promise of sausages they come, like hairy moths to a smoking flame.

When I was growing up in the 1980’s, my Mum did the majority of the cooking. This wasn’t down to any adherence to archaic gender roles - she was just better at it than my dad and had more of an active interest. But there was something about a hot summer’s day and a cloudless sky that would interrupt this status quo. On days like these, a man - whose usual culinary forays were rarely more adventurous than heating up a tin of beans - would wield a giant pair of tongs.  And these tongs would turn him into Keith Floyd.

As a child, I thought barbecues were fun, but ultimately just burnt food eaten outdoors, with the soundtrack of occasional yells of “can someone tell me what colour this is, please?” My dad is colour-blind, so the different nuances in hue between a cooked and a raw chicken thigh are largely beyond him. Luckily, he’s improved in the years since and, though he’s still no Gordon Ramsay, he can cook a decent kebab and good banger, and it’s been several years since he last set fire to a tree.

I know that my own childhood experiences don’t necessarily represent society at large (if they did, we would have a lot fewer trees), but I don’t think they are that unusual either. I’m not for an instant saying that men should step away from the barbie, I just wonder why more women don’t roll their sleeves up and get a little closer to the smoke too.

Which is exactly what I did over the weekend. A weekend barbecue, you say? How lovely. How relaxing. Except for the fact that I live in a third floor flat with no garden. But this trifling fact wasn’t enough to stop me. Especially not in weather like this, which cries for meat and something cold and fizzy to wash it down with. I skipped down to Argos for a portable coal barbecue and proceeded to light it on the fire escape: strictly forbidden. This might not be the most suitable of arrangements, but at least it’s tree-free out there. The barbecue itself is, in truth, a bit poxy. The coals were poking through the grill because it was too small to fit them in properly, but it got the job done, even if it wasn’t quite perfectly.

Boned leg of lamb, marinated in chermoula and cooked over hot coals

I butterflied a boned half leg of lamb (this was dinner for two), stabbed it all over and bunged it in an overnight chermoula marinade with the added ingredient of fresh mint. I am a Brit after all, and when my thoughts turn to lamb, mint often follows. The lamb was pink and succulent on the inside with a perfectly charred crust on the outside.

I parboiled some Jersey Royals and plunged them in ice water, before dousing them in oil, salt, pepper and more chopped mint. I threaded them on kebab skewers while the lamb was lying over the coals. I do love a spud, but there’s something extra special about a spud that’s been barbecued, so full of smoky, crispy, moreish goodness.

Barbecued Jersey Royals

I rustled up a simple salad of pea shoots, spring onion and courgette ribbons tossed in a lemon-y dressing to serve alongside it.

Courgette and pea shoot salad

The fear of a twitching-curtained neighbour calling the fire brigade on us was completely worth it. The lamb was so good, I wish I’d cooked a whole leg. So, man, woman or fish, there’s really no excuse not to fire up those coals for this fragrant and spicy delight, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a garden and a full sized barbecue to boot.

Chermoula marinated leg of lamb

½ a leg of lamb, boned and all the sinew trimmed off (you can ask your butcher to do this for you)
1-2 shallots, finely chopped
2-3 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
A finger of ginger, peeled and grated
The zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
A generous scattering of cumin seeds
Salt and pepper
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
A bunch of coriander, finely chopped
A bunch of mint, finely chopped
A generous glug of olive oil

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a dish and add the lamb, rubbing the marinade right into the flesh. Make sure the lamb is well coated on both sides, cover it and pop it in the fridge for at least 4 hours. The marinade is also delicious with chicken or fish. Before cooking the lamb, push a couple of skewers through the meat to stop it curling up on the barbecue and to help conduct the heat in the centre. When you’re ready to cook, place it fat down on the grill for 5 – 8 minutes before turning it. The meat should be slightly charred and brown, but not black. Leave the lamb to cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your meat and how pink you like it. Leave the lamb to rest, tented in foil, while you barbecue your Jersey Royal kebabs, turning them every couple of minutes until temptingly brown.