I never, ever thought I would cook lamb, let alone lamb pilaf.
For a long time, I was under the impression that lamb/mutton needs hours of pre-boiling to soften the tough meat, until recently.
Using my Le Creuset Dutch Oven and Made-in-Malaysia mixed spice brand Opah Herbs, I attempted to cook lamb shoulder. To my amazement, the meat became soft and succulent in under an hour! Just to assure myself it was no fluke, I made it a few more times – and they all turned out well. The secret? The combination of using the softest part of the lamb (shoulder), a Dutch Oven and the herbs.
Best of all, the dish was super easy to make.
So yesterday I decided to level up by making lamb pilaf.
How do I describe lamb pilaf? To call it “rice cooked together with lamb, aromatics and spices” would be selling it short. Yes, the flavourful and fork-tender meat is delicious, but to me, the best part of the dish is the rice.
Cooked slowly in the liquids released by the meat and vegetables, the rice ends up thoroughly coated with the melted fats from the lamb and infused with the flavours of the aromatics and spices.
Add the sweetness from the caramelized carrots, onions and shallots and … mama mia! Each grain is an umami bomb waiting to explode in your mouth. In other words, this was orgasmic-level deliciousness.
Many thanks to Kak Teh, founder of Opah Herbs, for giving me the courage to attempt to cook lamb. For this recipe, I used Opah Herbs’ instructions as a guide, though I made a few adjustments to suit my personal preferences and ingredient availability. No complaints there. Hubby and I scraped the pot clean, literally. The kerak nasi (burnt crust) is the best part of the dish, as any South East Asian will tell you!
Easy Lamb Pilaf
- Dutch oven
- 250g boneless lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- 2-3 tbsp Opah herbs (See Recipe Notes 1)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 4-5 cloves
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1-2 tbsp fried shallots
- Rice for two people, washed
- Handful roasted cashewnuts, unsalted
- 1 tbsp oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat up oil in Dutch oven and add onions. Cook until soft; they don't have to be caramelized.
- Add lamb, carrots, Opah herbs, star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves, cumin and coriander powder, pepper and salt, half a cup of water and 2 tbs of lemon juice. Cover with lid and cook over low heat for 45 min.
- Open lid and check for seasoning and tenderness of the lamb. If not soft enough, you can continue cooking it for another 10-15 minutes. If there's not enough gravy, add a few tablespoons of water to avoid burning. (Recipe Notes 2)
- Once lamb is done, add equal amounts of rice and water, followed by cashews and fried shallots. Mix everything roughly.
- Cover with lid and continue cooking over low heat until water has dried up and rice is fluffy and individually separated. Serve with a cucumber raita (See Recipe Notes 3).
- For cooking lamb, I prefer to use either Opah Mediterranean Mix or Opah Lamb/Beef Mix.
- The dryness/sauciness of your dish will depend on the fat content of your lamb and the water content of your vegetables, so adjust accordingly by adding water if necessary.
- For a simple cucumber raita, grate cucumber into a bowl, add several tbsp of yogurt and season with salt and pepper. That's it!
- Go for Aus/NZ lamb shoulder if you want meat that can be cooked to tenderness and doesn't have gameyness. I didn't have to spend hours pre-boiling my lamb.