Lamb took centre stage for me this week. The rarity of having the house to myself for the evening was occuring and this could only mean one thing – the cooking of a solitary feast that the rest of the family simply wouldn’t have cared to join me in; in other words a meal that under normal circumstances just wouldn’t get cooked.
Lamb is one of my favourite meats but alas it isn’t that of my family so it is rare that I get to indulge; all the more reason to make the most of the opportunity then.
Armed with some fabulous organic lamb steaks from my local butcher and feeling greatly inspired by the fabulous Nigel Slater’s slow cooked lamb with chickpea mash I set about creating a version fit for one person.
I wanted to keep the flavourings simple and straightforward; this was my day, my ‘me time’ and I didn’t want to be spending it making a million and one components for my simple supper. I settled on coating the lamb with a harrisa rub and keeping the mash incredibly basic; simply mashed chickpeas with a drizzle of olive oil and a few leaves of watercress (as I had a huge bag from Riverford that needed using) tossed through.
Harissa is a North African hot red sauce or paste whose main ingredients are chili peppers (often smoked or dried) and garlic. Though most closely associated with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, it is a standard ingredient of North African and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Harissa paste is now an everyday, easily accessible, storecupboard ingredient and can be bought from supermarkets and small ethnic food stores alike. I am lucky enough that my lovely Israeli friend Francesca keeps me well stocked up with supplies though. Harissa spice rub is an altogether different beast, one that I struggle to locate locally and so always order directly from The Spice Shop; one day I will visit the London based store and trust me I will be like the proverbial child in a sweet shop.
Slow cooking the lamb steaks was certainly not an option, so, I went down the route of extreme opposites. I pan fried the lamb quickly over a very high heat; giving me caramelised edges, burnished fat and yet quiveringly tender, rose pink meat.
Keeping the chickpea mash subtle, if not even slightly bland, was a great idea as it became a base carrier for all the other flavours. The chickpeas themselves just gave a subtle creamy, nutty, backdrop.
Once the lamb was joined by a sloppy mash of chickpeas and the few cream enhanced mahogany juices, alchemy occured. A simple supper was elevated to a meal I’d have gladly served to guests at a dinner party.