Mechoui is traditionally prepared by roasting a whole lamb either on a spit over a fire or in a pit in the ground. The meat is eaten by hand with salt and cumin for dipping.
As most home ovens can't accommodate a whole lamb, this mechoui recipe calls for very slowly roasting a leg of lamb or shoulder in the oven until the meat is tender enough to pull off the bone.
Slow roasting with a very low temperature can take up to nine hours, depending on the thickness of the cut, but you'll find the long cooking time well worth the wait as the meat will be so buttery tender that it can easily be pulled from the bone by hand—which is how it's traditionally eaten anyway!
If such a long, slow roast won't work with your schedule, directions for shorter roasting methods are included. All three methods can be used to roast a half lamb or very small whole lamb if your oven can accommodate those larger roasts.
- 1 whole leg of lamb (bone-in or shoulder)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (room-temperature)
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic (pressed)
- 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (crushed)
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Garnish: salt for dipping
- Garnish: cumin for dipping
Prepare the Lamb
- Trim excess fat from the leg of lamb or shoulder, and make a dozen or more deep cuts into the meat with the tip of a sharp knife.
- Combine the butter with the garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, saffron, turmeric, and olive oil. Spread the mixture over the entire leg or shoulder of lamb, working some butter into the incisions made with the knife.
- Place the lamb in a roasting pan, and proceed with one of the roasting methods below.
Very Slow-Roasting Method: 7 1/2 to 9 Hours
This is the preferred Marrakesh method. You can reduce the cooking time to 4 to 5 hours by using a 350 F/180 C oven temperature.
- Heat an oven to 250 F/120 C.
- Place the lamb in a roasting pan and cover with foil, sealing the edges tightly. Roast the lamb, basting hourly and resealing the foil each time, for 7 to 8 hours, or until the juices run clear and the meat is tender enough to pinch off the bone.
- Small pieces of lamb, weighing less than 4 pounds/2 kg might finish cooking in 6 hours. Larger pieces might take closer to 9 hours.
- Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 475 F/240 C. Brown the lamb, basting frequently, for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the meat is well-colored.
- Transfer the lamb to a platter and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving. If desired, pour the juices over and around the lamb. Serve dishes of salt and cumin on the side for dipping.
Traditional Roasting Method: 3 to 4 Hours
When short on time, this method also works very well, but the meat won't be quite as tender as the above method. The lamb will, however, have more of a crisp crust, which some Moroccans find desirable.
- Heat an oven to 475 F/240 C. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan, and roast the lamb, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F/160 C and continue roasting the lamb, basting occasionally, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender, the juices run clear and the lamb has a dark, crisp crust.
- Transfer the lamb to a platter and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before serving. If desired, the juices can be poured over and around the lamb. Serve dishes of salt and cumin on the side for dipping.
Fast Roasting Method: 1 to 2 Hours
- Heat an oven to 475 F/240 C. Wrap the exposed lower leg of the lamb in foil to prevent burning. Add 1/2 cup of water and a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, and roast the lamb, uncovered, for 1 to 2 hours, basting frequently, until the lamb is well browned and the juices run clear when a knife is inserted deep into the meat.
- If the meat has browned before the juices are clear, cover the meat with loose foil to prevent further darkening.
- Transfer the lamb to a platter and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. If desired, the juices can be poured over and around the lamb. Serve dishes of salt and cumin on the side for dipping.
How to Serve the Mechoui
- Plan to serve mechoui for a special family dinner or when entertaining. For a colorful presentation, garnish the platter with an assortment of salads or roasted or grilled vegetables.
- You also can make mini brochettes by threading cubes of cured meat, cheese and olives on toothpicks and inserting them into the roast as a garnish.