This kumquat lamb tagine isn't traditional, and requires a bit of forethought, but it's honestly one of the best braised lamb dishes I've ever tasted. The briny, spicy braised lamb is offset by the sweet, tangy kumquat sauce and the meat is meltingly tender while still retaining its shape, thanks to the curing.
One of the things I love about participating in collaborative cooking events such as Forage Feast this past weekend is that it gives me a chance to bounce my ideas of others, while learning new techniques from the many brilliant minds that participate.
At this particular event, I picked up several techniques (including the use of ziplock bags to make ice cream), but the one that really stuck with me was the process of spice curing meat for a few days before braising it. This was one of Stephane's many contributions to the meal, and as a course of braised pork with sauteed ramps, morels and pickled ramps, it was my favourite.
Excited to apply this spice curing technique with a different mix of flavours, I rummaged through the freezer looking for a suitable cut of meat. Wagyu beef would have been a waste... pork chops, too lean... pork cheek might have worked, but what I was really looking for was a vacuum sealed pack of lamb breast at the very bottom of the freezer. At about $2 a pound, it's one of the cheapest cuts, and yet with its high fat content and flavourful meat, it's perfect for slow roasting or braising in a dish such as this.
The salt in the rub removes some of the water from the meat giving it a pleasantly firm texture, even after braising for a few hours. When the meat is nearly tender, it's removed and added to a mixture of caramelized onions, kumquats, honey and some braising liquid to finish. As the sauce reduces, it forms a sweet glaze that coats everything, giving the dish a salty/sweet contrast similar to a honey glazed ham.
I served this on a bed of cous cous, but it would be good on rice, quinoa or other grain/pasta of your choice.
For spice rub
- Put the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, all spice, cloves and cardamom in a small pan and toast until fragrant, moving constantly with a swirling motion to prevent them from burning. Put the toasted spices in a blender with the salt and pepper and grind. Pour the mixture over the lamb breasts and rub to coat thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 48 hours.
- When the lamb is done curing, rinse off all the extra spices and salt, then add them to a heavy bottomed pot along with the onion, carrot, celery, cinnamon stick and ginger. Cover with water then bring to a boil. Skim off any brown foam and fat that accumulates. Cover and turn down the heat to low. Cook until the ribs are almost tender (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours), skimming off any fat periodically.
- Remove the ribs from the liquid and strain the broth into a bowl, discarding the solids. Wash out the pot and return to medium heat with a splash of oil. Saute the onions and kumquats until the onions are tender and just starting to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients for the tagine and simmer uncovered until the liquid is mostly gone.
- Garnish with mint or cilantro and serve with cous cous or rice.