Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Fresh Dates
My Aunts Frosa and Vasso have huge date trees in their gardens, and Frosa’s is so big she had to ask the entire village to come and take the fresh dates last year – there was no way our (enormous) family could get through them all. It got me thinking how you could use the fresh variety in cooking, as they are sweet but not as tooth-achingly sweet as the dried variety found in supermarkets.
In the UK, you can find fresh dates in Greek and Middle Eastern shops in late summer. They’re worth buying in bulk, as they freeze beautifully, becoming even a little sweeter. If you can’t find fresh dates, use 300g of medjool dates with the stones removed, and 300g of peeled, chopped orchard fruits like apples and pears.
I use lamb shoulder in this recipe as it’s so readily available. However Greeks and Cypriots love eating goat and if you were to do this recipe with goat shoulder – if you can find it – it would be delicious.
|1 x 2kg||lamb shoulder|
|1 small stick||cinnamon|
|Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|500ml||hot beef or chicken stock|
|2 tbsp||date molasses|
|A splash||red wine vinegar|
Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 3. Take your lamb shoulder out of the fridge 20 minutes before you want to cook it. While it is coming up to room temperature, halve the dates and remove the stones (this is easy to do if you cut them through the stem). Peel the onions and slice into 1cm wedges. Crush the garlic with the skins on, using the side of a chef’s knife.
When the lamb is ready, pierce it in 4 places and poke in the bay leaves. Scatter the dates, cinnamon stick, onions and garlic in a large roasting tray and place the lamb on top. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season generously, then pour the hot stock into the tray. Take a large piece of baking paper, run it under cold water, scrunch it up and tuck it over the top of the lamb. Tightly cover the tray with foil and place in the oven for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, remove the foil and paper and drizzle the lamb with the date molasses. Return it to the oven and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the lamb is sticky and incredibly tender, and the stock has reduced. Finish by adding a splash of red wine vinegar to the cooked-down dates and onions, season to taste, then serve. It’s perfect alongside a bowl of steaming bulgur wheat or coriander roasted potatoes.