As I’ve mentioned before, it is hard to imagine Indian food without some ingredients that came with European colonizers and traders from the Americas: chillies, tomatoes, potatoes. Cumin, however, is not one of those ingredients. Like pepper, it has been grown and used in South Asia for a very long time. And also like pepper, it is not in fact native to South Asia: it has been grown in many parts of Asia for a long time now and probably originates in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Traders on the spice/silk roads may have taken it to China, where it is an ingredient in the cuisines of the Northwestern regions and also in certain Sichuan dishes. For travelers across the Levant, North Africa and Asia in earlier eras, the aroma and flavour of cumin must have been a sign of the familiar in otherwise foreign lands. It has also gone West, of course, and is now a staple ingredient in a number of South and Central American cuisines. Indeed, it is hard to say now what cumin’s nationality is.
As anyone who has eaten cumin lamb in Sichuan restaurants or any number of North African lamb preparations knows, cumin and lamb go together like two other things that go together really well (I’m sorry, it’s late). While lamb is not cooked very widely in India—goat is our staple red meat—I like to imagine that this dish brings together Indian, North African and Sichuan flavours in a roast prepared in a North American/European style.
While the spice mix is all my own, the directions for the roasting are taken from this site. Well, mostly. The author of that recipe recommends starting at 450º and then reducing the temperature to 325º; I prefer to bring it down to 300º and let it cook slower and a little longer. I do absolutely endorse her advice on purchasing a good meat thermometer of the probe variant. It is best to cook roasts by temperature and not time—and my own results have improved dramatically since I purchased one of these for less than $20.
- Boneless leg of lamb, 2-3 lbs
- The following ground to a coarse powder: 1 tblspn cumin seeds, 1 tblspn coriander seeds, 2-4 hot dried red chillies, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 3-4 cloves, a few small pieces of cinnamon/cassia bark, 1/2 tspn Sichuan peppercorn
- Pull the leg of lamb out of the fridge at least 1 hour before you start with the rest of the prep and let it come to room temperature.
- Take the lamb out of the netting (if it came in netting) and open it up. If it’s possible to butterfly it further, do so
(slice it horizontally but stop before you cut into two parts). If not, place it fat side down and cut deep grooves into the meat, going almost to the fat.
- Sprinkle the powdered spices and salt liberally over the butterflied meat or into the deep grooves; save enough for the outside.
- Roll/gather the meat back up, coat with the remaining spice mix and salt, and either put the netting it came with back over it to hold it together or tie it with kitchen twine. Set aside while you heat the oven.
- Heat the oven to 450ºF.
- Place the lamb in a roasting pan of choice, insert the probe of an oven thermometer into the deepest part of the meat and place the roasting pan into the oven.
- Roast at 450º for 15 minutes and then lower the oven temperature to 300º. Roast till the thermometer shows 120º. For a 2.5 lb roast this will probably take somewhere between 50-65 minutes, depending on the temperature the roast was at to start or how hot your oven runs.
- Remove the roast from the oven and the pan and place it on a cutting board and tent foil over it loosely. Leave the thermometer probe in.
- Once the probe gets to 130º (for medium-rare) take the foil off and slice as thinly or thickly as you like and serve with sides of your choice.
- I have only made this with 2-2.5 lb roasts. These cook very fast and so the spices don’t burn; I’m not sure how this recipe would work if you had a much larger roast.
- As long as you keep the cumin and coriander seed as the dominant ingredients in the blend you should feel free to adjust the rest up or down.
- This goes very well with mashed potatoes and also over rice (try it with this pulao, for example).
- If you have any ideas for wine that would work well with this please write in.