Yoghurt-Marinated Barbecued Lamb

Yoghurt marinades are common throughout North Africa, The Middle East and India, where they are used to tenderize frankly inferior cuts of meat. Just why yoghurt should have a tenderizing effect is a mystery, but it also works well with the better cuts of meat we enjoy in Britain. It is important to brush the marinade off before cooking as otherwise it tends to cake and burn.

Use a leg of lamb and have your butcher bone it for you, a tricky task and one which you really need to learn how to do if you are to avoid making a hash of it. You also need a boning knife to do the job properly. He will produce a roughly rectangular piece of meat about 5–7.5cm / 2–3in thick, a perfect cut for barbecuing because it will give you some well-done crusty outside bits as well as a succulent pink centre for those who prefer their meat on the rare side.

If you do not want to light a barbecue, then cook on a ridged grill pan.

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Ingredients

  • 1.8 kg / 4 lb leg of lamb, boned
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 cm / ¾ in piece of cinnamon stick
  • 450 ml / ¾ pt thick natural yoghurt
  • juice of 3 limes
  • 18 small-to-medium-sized Spanish onions
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • small bunch of fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Method

Two days before you want to cook the lamb: cut the boned leg into three pieces, following the seams of skin and fat. Put the pieces into a plastic container in which they will just fit, pour over the lime juice and sprinkle on a little salt. Cling-wrap the top and refrigerate for 24 hours.

The next day: toast the spices in a small, heavy, dry frying pan over a low heat for 2–3 minutes. Grind in a coffee grinder and put into a bowl.

Remove the meat from the container and wipe out any juices from the base. Mix the spices with the yoghurt and spoon this yoghurt marinade on the bottom, lay the lamb on top and cover with the remaining marinade. Rub the marinade well in and return to the fridge for a further 24 hours, removing to return to room temperature at least 2 hours before cooking.

When ready to cook: light the barbecue an hour in advance to obtain maximum heat. Brush off the marinade, sprinkle the meat with salt and lay on the grill, salt side down and about 15cm / 6 in above the coals. Do not push it around, but leave it untouched to cook for 8 minutes.

Season the upper surface with salt and pepper before turning and cooking the other side for 7 minutes. Remove and leave to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes before carving across the grain into thick slices.

At the same time as you light the barbecue, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7 and put on a large, heavy, frying pan to heat over a medium flame.

Peel the onions. Pour the oil into the hot pan, lower the heat and cook the onions, shaking the pan and turning the onions with tongs until they are golden brown all over. Bang the garlic cloves with the heel of your hand and scatter them, unpeeled, around the onions. Scatter the thyme over, and season with salt and pepper. Put into the oven and roast for 30–40 minutes.

Discard the garlic and serve the lamb on warmed plates with three onions per person and with the pan juices spooned over.