Mrouziya (Honey Spiced Lamb)
Preheat the oven to 325F. With your hands, thoroughly coat the meat with ras el hanout. Set the meat in a heavy cast-iron pan or an enameled casserole with a heavy lid. Add the water, the oil, smen, and honey. Cover tightly. Bake until the meat falls off the bones, 3 to 4 hours.
4 pounds lamb shoulder, cut into large chunks 3 tablespoons ras el hanout spice blend (see below) 2 to 3 cups water 1/2 cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons smen (see below) 1/2 cup honey 3/4 cup raisins, plumped in warm water and drained 1 cup (5 ounces) whole blanched almonds, toasted (see below) Hobz Belboula or other crusty bread for serving
With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to an ovenproof dish and keep warm. Skim the fat from the sauce. Place the casserole over medium-high heat and add the raisins. Cook, stirring, until the sauce attains the consistency of maple syrup, 10 to 12 minutes. Return the meat to the sauce. Stir to coat and heat through.
Transfer meat to a shallow platter and garnish with the toasted almonds. Serve with extra sauce on the side, and warm bread.
Smen (Aged Butter)
"Smen, an aged butter similar to Asian ghee, is a prized flavoring ingredient in Moroccan dishes. Smen is made from clarified butter, dried herbs, and salt. It is aged in small earthenware pots in a cool, dry place until it acquires an aroma and consistency similar to Roquefort cheese. Berber farmers in southern Morocco bury a tightly sealed pot of smen on the day of a daughter's birth, unearthing it years later to flavor the couscous served on her wedding day. Berber tradition notwithstanding, I suggest you use the smen within six months. A teaspoon or two is usually all that is required to impart the characteristic taste to a dish of couscous or to the sauce of a tagine. You can substitute equal parts butter and olive oil in place of smen in a recipe, if you prefer."
Makes 1-1/2 cups
1 pound unsalted butter 2 teaspoons dried oregano 1 tablespoon sea salt
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Wrap the oregano leaves in a square of cheesecloth and tie it closed with kitchen twine. Set the sachet in the butter. Simmer until the butter turns into a clear golden liquid and the white sediment settles on the bottom, 25 to 30 minutes. Skim off the foam. Discard the oregano sachet. Strain the butter through a clean fine muslin dish cloth once or twice until clear. Transfer to a hot sterilized wide-mouthed pint glass jar. Add the salt and mix well. Let stand in a cool place until the butter becomes pungent, 1 to 2 weeks. Refrigerate after opening. Use within 6 months.
Ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)
"There must be as many recipes for ras el hanout as there are spice vendors in Morocco. The name itself, which translates as "top (or head) of the shop," refers to the best combination of spices the seller can provide. Si Brahim, our spice vendor in Azemmour, incorporates thirty-four spices, dried roots, so-called aphrodisiacs, and other mysterious and unusual items. I prefer to use Naima Lakhmar's more easily prepared, less elaborate recipe. She toasts all her ras el hanout ingredients before grinding. You can usually find blade mace, dried ginger root, and dried turmeric root in Middle Eastern markets."
Makes about 1/4 cup
If using whole spices, put all the ingredients in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and toast, stirring constantly, until the mixture emits a pleasant aroma, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. (This first step is not necessary if using commercially ground spices.) Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, reduce the ingredients to a fine powder. Sift to remove fibrous elements. Place in a tightly sealed container and store in a cool, dark place, or in the freezer.
1 teaspoon allspice berries or 1-1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 1 whole nutmeg or 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg 20 threads Spanish saffron 2 teaspoons black peppercorns or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper 1-1/2 teaspoons blade mace* or ground mace 1 three-inch cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom 2 two-inch pieced dried ginger or 2 teaspoons ground ginger 2 teaspoons salt 1 two-inch piece dried turmeric or 1 teaspoon ground
*Blade mace, also called mace blades, is the lacy, scarlet aril covering the nutmeg. It turns light brown as it dries. It is better know in its powdered form as ground mace.