Sheep trick


I’ve been the quintessential Melbourne chick lately, with the last two Saturdays spent rummaging through markets and pop-ups. The run-down: Gorman home pop-up, Latin American Festival, Design Files Open House and Maribyrnong Makers Market. Living in Melbourne is exhausting!
A chock-a-block Saturday preceded by five days of work is invariably followed by bedlam, with our house looking positively ransacked. So… with the washing machine on high rotation, and mountains of detritus to sort on a recent Sunday, I decided to slow-cook a chunk of lamb, a process I love as the meat can be ignored for the day while it does its thing. The result is an impressive-looking feast, with tender and juicy meat that literally falls away from the bone after a light prod with a fork. A most excellent reward after a day of hard yakka!
There is minimal prepping required for this dish. I make a quick spice mix (as used for my pork belly, although I swap the smoked paprika for oregano), rub it over the lamb and bung it in the oven. I find it unnecessary to pre-marinate lamb shoulder, or bring it to room temperature for an hour or more, as many recipes exhort – 5 hours in the oven equals meat cooked to perfection with spices well and truly impregnated. Yum!
My friend Ed alerted me to her go-to lamb shoulder recipe recently, by Kate Gibbs, with beautiful halved full garlic heads. I threw a couple in with my lamb and oh my goodness, I don’t think I can eat roast meat without them ever again. I’ve often tossed single unpeeled cloves into a pan of potatoes, but the halved full heads are just so darn pretty, and absolutely delicious.
I saved a few cloves of the roasted garlic and used them in a creamy garlic yogurt sauce which we drizzled over lamb gyros the following night, made with reserved slow-cooked lamb. May I be so bold as to say the gyros were spectacular, and they took only 20 minutes to whip up! I made the exact same meal the following Sunday, to a background chorus of woohoos from my boys; and agitated grunting from the washing machine.
PS. The key to a perfect gyro is the right bread and pocketless pitas are the way to go, if you can find them. My lovely spongy pitas are hand-made by Kalimera in Oakleigh, a takeaway restaurant that is absolutely worth the drive. If you’re unable to find pocketless pita bread in your ‘hood, naan is a good replacement; ideally from an Indian grocer as supermarket naans can be a tad cardboard-like.

Slow roasted lamb shoulder and roasted garlicSlow roasted lamb shoulder[Recipe 1] Slow-roasted lamb shoulder with roasted garlic and potatoes

Ingredients (serves 4 for two meals):
2½ kilo (5 lb) lamb shoulder, bone in (have your butcher cut through the bone here and there)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons oregano (fresh, chopped, if you have it)
2 whole heads garlic, halved crossways
4 large potatoes, cut into chunks
Salad to serve (eg. apple slawgreen beans with toasted pine nuts or tomato, fetta and mint salad)
Lemon wedges, to serve

Preheat oven to 220°C (425ºF).
Pop the lamb into a heavy baking pan, fat side up. Score the fat all over with a very sharp knife. Mix the oil, salt, cumin, cinnamon and oregano together; and rub all over the lamb. Tuck the garlic heads around the lamb. Add a splash of water (about 4 tablespoons). Place a sheet of baking paper on top, then cover very tightly with two layers of foil.
Roast the lamb and garlic heads, covered, for 15 minutes.
Turn the oven down to 150°C (300°F) and roast, covered, for a further 4¾ hours (see tips below if your lamb shoulder is a lighter weight than stipulated).
Carefully add the chopped potatoes to the roasting pan for the last 2 hours, covered.
Remove the lamb from the oven, place onto a board and rest, covered with foil, for 20 minutes.
Remove the potato chunks and garlic heads from the pan and place them on a tray lined with baking paper. Turn the oven up as high at will go, and return them to the oven for 20–30 minutes for extra crisping, while you rest and prepare the lamb. Potatoes and garlic can be kept warm in a low oven.
When ready to serve, pull the lamb meat apart with two forks.
♦ Reserve 2 cups cooked lamb, and a few tablespoons of the pan juices, for the lamb gyros.
♦ Reserve 4 single cloves (8 halves) of roasted garlic for the roasted garlic yogurt sauce.
Place the remaining lamb on a serving platter with the lemon wedges. Serve immediately with roasted garlic heads, roasted spuds and salad.

  • Reserved slow-cooked lamb and roasted garlic cloves can be stored in the fridge, well-covered, for up to 3 days.
  • Lamb shoulder cooking time summary: Cooking time for lamb shoulder is pretty standard, no matter where you look. Start with a burst at high temperature, then turn down the oven for a long slow cook!
    For a 2½ kilo (5 lb) lamb shoulder, the total cooking time is 5 hours (1 hour per 500g/1 lb; including an initial ¼ hour at a higher temperature – see recipe). Allow an extra 20 minutes resting time.
    For a 2 kilo (4 lb) lamb shoulder, the total cooking time is 4 hours (1 hour per 500g/1 lb; including an initial ¼ hour at a higher temperature). Allow an extra 20 minutes resting time.

Home made lamb gyro with garlic sauce

[Recipe 2] 20-minute lamb gyros with roasted garlic sauce

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 pita breads, preferably without pockets (see notes in my introduction)
♦ 2 cups reserved slow-cooked lamb, shredded, warmed
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 red (purple/Spanish) onion, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
Roasted garlic sauce (make 2 hours ahead if time permits):
1 cup (250g) Greek yogurt
♦ 4 reserved roasted garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt

Make the garlic sauce by processing ½ cup yogurt, reserved roasted garlic cloves and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, add the remaining ½ cup yogurt and stir to combine. Season. Refrigerate for at least two hours, if possible, to allow the flavour to develop.
Warm pita breads on a chargrill or in a dry frying pan.
Pile reserved lamb, tomato, onion and cucumber onto each warmed pita bread.
Drizzle with garlic sauce and roll up to enclose. Serve immediately.

  • Garlic sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
  • Gyros are also lovely served with cucumber raita or tahini sauce, in place of the garlic sauce.
  • Lamb can be gently warmed in the microwave, covered with cling film.
  • Kid tip: My 9-year old gobbles up the gyros as is, but my 6 year old prefers plain Greek yogurt (stirred to thin it slightly), grated carrot and sliced avocado in his.

80 thoughts on “Sheep trick

  1. I’ve never been big on eating lamb, but the way that looks could make me a changed man; I’ve only ever seen pulled pork look that good.

    I’ll definitely have to give this recipe a shot.

  2. Oh God! My kingdom for a decent feed of lamb!
    This recipe sounds great, Saskia! Making me extra homesick!
    I think I’m going to have to get me a leg of goat and give it a go (lamb is hard to come by and pretty exy here in Indonesia).

    • Oh, slow-cooked goat sounds amazing. I’ve eaten it at a Nepalese restaurant here in Melbourne, kebab style & in a curry. Such lovely sweet meat. Goat’s cheese (yum!) & milk is common, but we have to travel to find goat’s meat here. Oakleigh, a local suburb with a huge Greek community has goat’s meat available at all their butchers though… must plan a visit!

      • Hi Saskia,
        I did the roast goat (according to your recipe) last night and it was truly amazing! I did two separate whole legs of goat in two crappy little portable electric ovens, and I was really surprised with the result. It turned out really, really well. Our dinner guests were raving abut it all night. My wife says it was the tastiest roast meat she has ever eaten!!! (High praise indeed!)
        So thank you for the recipe! I’ll be doing that one again, that’s for sure! (And I can’t wait to get back home and try it in my “proper” stove!)

  3. I have a question, when do you know what parts of lamb you can braise? For instance, center cut lamb leg? I haven’t been able to find shanks or shoulder, but I have found leg. Can it be braised to fall apart tender or nah?

    • Hi there. Thanks for the question. Although lamb leg is lovely, it’s much leaner than shoulder so it won’t fall off the bone and become lovely and soft after roasting. Leg is perfect for slicing, whereas shoulder is shreddable!
      PS. Lamb leg needs a much shorter cooking time and is best served medium rare or medium (if roasted too long it will dry out); whereas shoulder is just made for slow-cooking; the longer the better!

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  5. There is nothing better than the smell of slow cooking lamb, you always know there will be plenty left over and the gyros are are a perfect way to use the left overs 🙂

  6. Oh, these dishes look so good, Saskia. We don’t have lamb a lot, as it’s not so commonly available here, but what wonderful treatments for when I can get my hands on some. This would be ideal for over the holidays, when easy and clever ideas for leftovers are all the more in demand.

    • Thanks df. Lamb is as common as muck here – thankfully, as we love it! Hogget (more mature lamb, or youthful sheep), can be used for this dish too; and might be easier to find. The slow-cooking works beautifully on older cuts on meat. It does have a slightly stronger flavour though.

  7. This is a slowed cooked lamb I could see myself preparing without hesitation. Wonderfully seasoned and I think looking forward to the gyros with the leftovers is part of the excitement of the whole ordeal! I love this…absolutely adore this from beginning to end Saskia! We just had falafel two nights ago with a wonderful “pocketless” pita and I felt it truly made the meal. I can only imagine with your lamb how incredible this would be. Beautiful food and gorgeous photos…your boys must be in heaven! 🙂

    • Thanks so much. Yep, my boys LOVE both these meals. My 9-year old adores scooping the roasted garlic cloves and mashing them on his lamb; which makes me one happy mum! Pocketless pitas are much more satisfying aren’t they. Yum, you’ve reminded me about falafel – haven’t made them for ages.

  8. The photo of the tender, succulent lamb meat is making my mouth water! It looks gorgeous. The combo of cumin, cinnamon and oregano sounds delightful, and I’m glad there’s no need for marinating or bringing the meat to room temperature – who can be bothered?

    • Thanks Amelia! I always take the easy route when possible, and I’ve honestly found no discernible difference between marinated/un-marinated and room temperature/straight from the fridge. My butcher is open on Sundays so I love being able to make this meal spontaneously!

      • We cooked this to take to an early Christmas lunch today and MY GOD it’s good. The lamb is so tender and just falls right off the bone. Bloody delicious Saskia. You’ve made my husband swear with delight while pulling the lamb off the bone.

  9. Wow I shall have to seriously study your recipes of slow cooked lamb because it looks so good! And definitely both of them because they both seem amazing. I have to cook dinner now though I wish this was in front of me 🙂

    • Thanks so much Sofia. The slow-cooked lamb is ridiculously easy, and the recipe honestly doesn’t require much studying at all. This is such a crazy time of year, and I’m all for saving my brain at the moment!

  10. Now this is my kind of 2 for 1 meal, Saskia. Lamb is definitely a favorite and though we roast it with different herbs, yours with the garlic and spice rub sounds delicious. I need to find a good lamb shoulder so that I can try this out, especially the lamb gyros. That sounds really good and, being a lover of gyros, I must prepare it. I’ve pinned this recipe. It’s one I do not wish to lose. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks John, and thanks for pinning! Thank goodness for Pinterest, such an excellent cyber recipe book (my folder of torn-out magazine recipes seems so, well, analogue in comparison)!
      The lamb gyros are a great mid-week meal, so tasty and easy. My boys would be happy to eat them every night.

  11. What a beautiful pair of meals! I reckon that the Lebanese and their neighbours make the best food in the world. I love the sound of the spice mix; and absolutely agree that the right spongy pita bread can make all the difference. Might have to seek out that place next time I am in Oakleigh…
    By the way, this is such a nutty time of the year, but I so admire your ability to get out and about, prepare a stunning meal, AND remember to do the washing!

    • Thanks Sandra! Yup – I absolutely agree. LOVE Lebanese food, especially in the warmer weather. Around November every year I start getting out my Greg Malouf cookbooks; for his dips, salads and sweets. Kalimera is ACE – get there early though, before the queues start forming. Their pork gyros are to die for, although I have mine sans chips (chips belong on the side as far as I’m concerned).

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