The preparation of the lamb in this recipe is based on a traditional Moroccan dish of steamed lamb shoulder. Seasoned with salt, cumin and garlic, it’s a simple, hands-off alternative to braising that results in moist flavorful meat. You could serve it simply with couscous and roasted vegetables, or you could do what I did — pull it, fry it, and tuck it into warm tortillas for some seriously tasty tacos. I’ve made this with both lamb and goat shoulder, bone-in or boneless. Your cooking time will vary slightly depending on the cut, but the results are equally delicious.
Cumin Lamb Tacos
Serves 4-6 depending on how much you love tacos
- 3 lbs lamb shoulder on the bone (or 2 lbs. boneless, tied), trimmed of excess fat
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Chili flake, cayenne or harissa (optional)
- 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 10-12 cilantro stalks
- 2 tablespoons fat for frying (lard, oil, etc.)
- Corn tortillas for serving (have some fun and make your own)
Suggested Fixings (see below)
- Cabbage, Carrot and Kale Slaw
- Quick Pickled Red Onions
- Feta Crema
- Hot Sauce or Harissa
Combine the cumin and salt and rub into the lamb – if you like spice, add a pinch of cayenne, hot pepper flakes or a small spoonful of harissa to the mixture. Allow the lamb to rest at room temperature for an hour as the flavors penetrate. Place the lamb on a piece of cheesecloth, lay 3 of the garlic cloves on top and tie the cheesecloth over the top.
Fill a large saucepan fitted with a steamer basket large enough to hold the lamb shoulder three-quarters full with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Line the base of the steamer with the cilantro stalks and the remaining garlic cloves. Place the lamb on top and cover – it’s important to have a tight seal, if necessary, cover with foil and crimp around the edges of the pot, then place the lid on top. Adjust the heat so the water is just maintaining a boil and steam for 2-2.5 hours (it could take up to 3 hours with the bone in). Don’t lift the lid for the first 1.5 hours of cooking, after that, keep an eye on the water level and add more if necessary. The lamb should easily pull away from the bone when cooked.
Meanwhile prepare the slaw, pickled red onions and crema.
When the lamb is cooked, lift it out of the steamer and remove the cheesecloth and garlic cloves. Use a fork to pull the lamb off the bone and into smaller bite-size pieces. Fold a few spoonfuls of the steaming liquid into the pulled lamb – which should now be a bit salty and rich with lamb drippings.
Heat the fat in a heavy skillet on medium-high until a drop of water sizzles and pops in it. Working in batches so you don’t crowd the meat, fry the lamb, turning with tongs for a few minutes until is is browned and crisped in spots. Wipe the skillet clean and warm the tortillas in the hot, dry pan until soft and pliable. Serve the lamb and tortillas along with the fixings for assembling tacos.
Cabbage, Carrot and Kale Slaw
- 1 small (or 1/2 of a large) head of green cabbage, cut into thin strips
- 2-3 carrots, julianned or peeled into thin strips
- 1 small head of kale, tough stems removed, cut into thin strips
- 1 big handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
- Lemon juice
- White wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Pinch of chili flake
- Salt and pepper
Prepare all the vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk together the dressing 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon, 1 part vinegar and season with salt, pepper and chili flake to taste. Combine, tossing occasionally until ready to serve.
Quick Picked Red Onions
Cut a small red onion in half length-wise and slice across the grain into thin half-moon strips. Toss with salt and the juice of 1 lemon. Stir occasionally until ready to serve.
Combine 4 oz. feta, a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt and a pinch of salt in a blender. Puree until smooth and adjust thickness with additional cheese/yogurt as desired.
Recipe and photo by Heather Marold Thomason