Roast Lamb with Moroccan Spices


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in


  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for racks of lamb, if using
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic, plus 3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
  • ½ cup chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
  • one 4- to 5-pound boned lamb shoulder, or 3 racks of lamb, ends trimmed, or one 6-pound boneless leg of lamb
  • couscous with almonds and raisins, for serving
  • lemon wedges for serving
  • harissa for serving


The term mechoui refers to a whole lamb cooked on the spit. It is prepared on very special occasions, for big parties and during Passover, because supposedly it is what the Jews would have cooked in the wilderness during the exodus from Egypt. While a whole lamb is not a likely option for home cooks, for special occasions a leg of lamb would be the best cut for this recipe. However, most observant Jews do not cook the hindquarters of an animal, in memory of a passage in Genesis where Jacob battled with the angel, was injured, and became lame. It’s not that leg of lamb is forbidden; it is just that before eating a hindquarter, the sciatic nerve and blood vessels attached to it must be removed, a time-consuming process. So I was surprised to find a recipe for leg of lamb in the book Moroccan Jewish Cookery, by Viviane and Nina Moryoussef. The most strictly observant Jews would use lamb shoulder. For a very festive meal, you may want to splurge and use racks of lamb, or if you are observant, have a butcher bone the leg of lamb and remove the vein. Leg of lamb cut into 1 ½-inch cubes and threaded on skewers would be ideal.

This brings us to the next issue, the degree of doneness. Many of us have come to prefer rare to medium-rare for lamb chops and leg of lamb, for juiciness, texture, and flavor. In kosher cooking, all meat is cooked well done so there is no visible blood. The meat is first salted and soaked. This is fine for stews made with shoulder, and even for meatballs, but this treatment poses a dilemma for those who love lamb chops or leg of lamb cooked to a lesser degree of doneness. The timing is up to you. You may decide to stay with the spirit of the dish but not cook it in a kosher manner. Mechoui is accompanied with an assortment of salads. Lemon wedges and harissa thinned with oil and lemon juice are the traditional condiments.

In a small bowl, combine the spices, the 6 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon juice, minced garlic, and fresh coriander. Stir to make a paste.

If using racks of lamb, make incisions with a small sharp knife between the chops and insert the slivers of garlic. Rub the lamb with the paste and marinate at room temperature for 2 hours or in the refrigerator overnight. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over high heat and sear the racks on all sides. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center and not touching bone registers 120 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium-rare, or 140 degrees F for medium, 12 to 20 minutes.

If using shoulder of lamb or leg of lamb, spread it with half of the paste, then roll it up and tie it closed.

Insert the garlic slivers in the folds and rub with the remaining paste. Marinate as above. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roast the shoulder for about 1½ hours, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees F for well done. For the leg of lamb, roast for about 1 hour, 10 minutes; the thermometer should register 120 degrees F for rare, 130 degrees F for medium. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. The lamb will continue to cook as it rests.

You may also rub the paste on a butterflied leg of lamb and not roll it up. Marinate, then grill or broil for 8 to 10 minutes per side.

Serve with couscous with almonds and raisins. Pass lemon wedges and harissa at table.