Mum’s cooking lamb!

It’s Sunday and I’m cooking lamb.  I’ve been out of action for a number of days – struck down by a particularly nasty bout of  gastro and ‘flu which left me feeling like even lifting a cup of tea was too much effort. As for food, the best I could do was nibble on the occasional dry biscuit and have sips of weak black tea with honey (ah, poor me). Finally though I have crawled out of my nest of doona, pillows and blankets and managed to regain my appetite.  And then some. Yesterday I took things easy and shredded some poached chicken into some rice cooked in chicken stock with ginger and accompanied with fresh plain yoghurt.

Despite its seeming blandness it was actually really tasty and moreish and so my thoughts have turned to another great meat and yoghurt combination.  Feeling like something more substantial (but really I suspect it’s just that I think it will be the perfect accompaniment to my yoghurt & herb salad)  I have decided on  a slow cooked shoulder of lamb.

Generally I find lamb too rich and fatty, but cooked this way – and allowing the lamb to get cold so that you can remove all the fat –  makes it less so. This is a recipe I got from Karen Martini and I think its probably the best (and easiest) roast lamb ever.  I do like Ottollenghi’s Lamb Shawarma but it’s a longer process and I’m a fan of the quick cook. Plus I know I always have the necessary ingredients on hand. I probably only make this a couple of times a year, and usually only when there are enough people around for it to be eaten (devoured) in one go. It’s always a success.  So much so that any leftover lamb seems to be always taken away by guests.  Now that’s a compliment.

I prefer to start this dish a day ahead so that you can put it in the fridge and then next day its easy to get rid of all the solidified fat.  Then all you need to do is heat it up before serving.  But it’s equally do-able on the day – its just such a tedious process to get rid of the liquid fat while leaving behind the juices.  Surely someone has invented a device for this purpose?


  • 2kg shoulder of lamb (bone in)
  • 2tbsp flaked salt
  • 1tbsp black peppercorns
  • 8 sprigs rosemary – stripped and finely chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 3 tbsp dried oregano
  • 120ml (about 12/ cup) white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup water

Heat oven to around 160 degrees.
Smash garlic cloves with the  back of a knife and place in a mortar along with the peppercorns, salt and rosemary.  Pound until paste-like then add olive oil and dried oregano.
Spread the lamb out into a ceramic baking dish – I like to butterfly it and I also remove the excess fat from the top – and rub the mixture into the flesh.  Massage it well then drizzle the vinegar over.  Pour the water into the bottom of the dish.  Cover with foil and put into the oven for at least 2 1/2 hours.  I have a very crappy oven so it takes about 4-5 hours for my lamb to cook.  You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to fall apart.
Take it out of the oven, and if you’re serving it soon, skim the fat off and return to the top shelf in the oven.  Boost the temperature up to high – around 220 degrees – and cook the lamb for about 5 minutes, letting it become nice and brown and crispy.
To serve, squeeze over some lemon juice.  It’s really that simple.  I generally serve it out of the dish it’s been cooked in. 

And to accompany:

My yoghurt salad/dip:
Place yoghurt into a salad bowl then add a couple of handfuls of fresh rocket, a handful of chopped dill, spring onion and thinly sliced cucumber that has been sprinkled in salt and allowed to drain in a sieve. Add salt and pepper and that’s it.  Simple but perfect.


Measure for measure – now you’re cooking

I read lots of recipes – for me they’re like mini novellas; short stories that fire my imagination. I have some favourite recipe books – Ottolenghi’s Plenty, Karen Martini’s Where the Heart Is, and (embarrassingly) Bill Granger’s Bill’s Food – though I must say in both my defence and Bill’s the recipes in his book are really good – easy and delicious and I would recommend them to anyone starting out on their cooking journey. Then there are some long-time treasures such as David Thompson’s original Classical Thai Cuisine  and Luke Nguyen’s My VietnamStephanie Alexander’s original A Cook’s Companion is a never ending source of information and inspiration and then there are all the issues of Gourmet Traveller – dating back to the 90s but now in digital format on my iPad.

Mostly though I just make it up as I go along. I generally follow a new recipe to the letter and then next time tweak it. Improvise. Sometimes this happens because I haven’t read the recipe properly and forgotten to buy some of the ingredients; other times it’s because I’m cooking from whatever I have to hand and the recipe is just a guide. This is where my saviour Google comes in: what flavourings/how long to cook pork belly? Within nano seconds I have a whole list of recipes for pork belly. The problem then is to sort through all the dross and find exactly what you want.

My other source of recipes (because sometimes I just can’t think of what to make) are the  ones in the Saturday papers. Often they provide great inspiration and Neil Perry’s recipe page in The Sydney Morning Herald’s magazine is usually very do-able.

But sometimes, sigh, recipes can be really exasperating. When, for instance, a recipe calls for 40g of rocket. Really? 40 grams? Who measures rocket? It’s like specifying 15g mint leaves. What is that? Why not just say: “a handful of rocket”? (which, by the way is around 40g). And what’s 15g of mint or coriander?

Now I know that real chefs are very precise in their measurements – after all, they need to ensure that every dish that goes out is exactly right; that each time you have a certain dish its exactly as it was last time. Consistency. There is no room in a professional kitchen for improvisation when cooking for patrons.  I’ve seen chef’s working in concentration on plating up – its quite a thing to see – such precision.  But for the home cook?

I’ve been cooking long enough to be able to gauge by eye and feel. I know that 50ml of lemon juice is roughly 1 medium lemon and that 250ml is about 1 cup. I would much prefer a recipe stated 1 tsp rather than 5ml. (Up until very  recently I only had a measuring jug that had increments of 50 ml so trying to guage what 25ml was – let alone 5 – was rather haphazard).  And after all, cooking is an art, not an exact science (unless you’re Heston Blumenthal) and we all have different palates.   When I’m cooking Thai or Vietnamese dishes I always go by taste.  I don’t even bother with tablespoon measures.  I know approximately how much fish sauce and palm sugar to put into a nuoc cham and always, I taste and adjust.  Of course you could buy all those little sets of measuring gadgets but my kitchen drawers are already cluttered with too many utensils and besides, it’s just one more thing to wash.

So, just to make things easier for those who have no idea how much 10ml lime juice is, here’s a rough guide to some of the things that have perplexed me in recipes:

  • 5ml = 1 tsp
  • 20ml = 1 tbs
  • 75ml = roughly 4 tbs
  • 250ml = 1 cup (just your standard  teacup)
  • 120ml is almost half a cup
  • 40g = 4 tbs
  • 40gm coriander is a small bunch of coriander (just the leaves)
  • Half a lime is about 1 tbs (20ml)

Should you have any measuring tips, do let me know. Happy cooking.


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