RECIPE: Making Méchoui Memories

MarocMama.com & Marrakech Food Tours’ Amanda Mouttaki shows off the most ceremonial lamb recipe.

Moroccan Méchoui
Photo: Marrakech Food Tours

The first time I experienced Eid al Adha, I was in Morocco visiting my husband (then fiancé) family and had no idea what this holiday was. After a day out in the city we came home and to my shock there was a sheep in the entryway of the house. My husband nonchalantly told me that was “for tomorrow.” I still didn’t understand why it needed to spend the night in the house. The next day it became clear.

Every year Muslims around the world sacrifice a ram on Eid al Adha. Meant to remember Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command, and God’s replacing the son with a sheep, it might be the biggest celebration of the year. The meat of the ram is divided into three parts; one for the family, one to give to family and friends, and the third to give to the needy.

Meat is still a treat for many families in Morocco. It is a reserved for special celebrations like weddings or baby showers and of course after the Eid holiday. A popular preparation; and my favorite is known as mechoui. The traditional way to prepare this meat is by a process that is a combination of roasting and smoking. In every city and village there are deep pits dug into the ground. Imagine a giant, buried clay pot that can hold multiple whole sheep. Inside a fire is lit and a smokestack carries the excess smoke off until the fire burns down to ashes and the pit is hot. The sheep is skinned and lowered into the hole that is then sealed with a heavy clay cover. The meat is left to smoke several hours until the exterior is crunchy and the meat tender.

Not everyone has a clay pit at hand to prepare mechoui so instead of relying on this method I make it in the oven on a very low heat but not before rubbing every surface and crevice with a mixture of smoky cumin, salt, chopped garlic, and ginger.

In our Moroccan home, there’s rarely a time when only a few people sit down to eat. Moroccan meals are big affairs and eating is a way of life, not just a part of life. A meal can last less anywhere from an hour, to two hours or even more. My husband is the youngest of nine children so there is always family around for lunch or dinner. It’s also common to have friends or neighbors drop in around meal time and join the meal. In Morocco it’s also common that those in need will knock at doors in neighborhoods and ask for something to eat – no one is ever turned away.

Cooking for my in-laws is always stressful. I didn’t grow up in a Moroccan home, in fact I’m not Moroccan at all. I spent years away from them with my husband in the US learning and refining recipes. This recipe is really easy to make with any cut of meat but I prefer the leg. I always hold my breath until I see the smile cross their faces!

Moroccan Oven Méchoui

Moroccan Méchoui
Photo: Marrakech Food Tours

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp cumin
  • 4 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 5 Tbsp butter cut into pieces and kept cold until needed. You can also use olive oil (about ¼ cup) but I really like the flavor of butter.
  • 1 leg of lamb/sheep (appx 1 kilogram or 2 lbs)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F/165C. Trim the excess fat from lamb cut and discard.
  2. Sprinkle salt over meat and place in roasting pan.
  3. Combine pepper, garlic, cumin to make a rub.
  4. With a knife make small cuts into the leg meat and massage with the spice mix.
  5. Cut half of the butter into chunks and rub it onto the meat after the spices.
  6. Tent the leg with aluminum foil.
  7. Cook for 2 1/2 hours, basting ever 30-45 minutes with the drippings from the pan.
  8. After this time has passed, increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees, remove foil, baste and allow leg of lamb to cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown.
  9. Continue to baste and add more butter each hour as needed. Remove from oven and serve!
  10. This is traditionally eaten sprinkled with more salt and cumin but also is great shredded and made into sandwich meat.

Amanda Mouttaki

Amanda Mouttaki is a freelance food and travel writer and the voice behind the website MarocMama.com. She lives in Marrakech with her husband and three kids. She and her husband own Marrakech Food Tours whose goal is to give English speaking visitors a chance to eat authentic Moroccan food in off the beaten path spots.

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