I should begin this by admitting that I've never been to Depot before, I've been invited a few times with friends, even looked through the menu to see what I think I might order, but the stars have never aligned.
Flicking through the pages something caught my eye and I had to go back - Harissa Lamb Ribs. Harrissa is everything that is right and good in the world – punchy Tunisian flavours blended into a spicy sauce. I've never actually tried lamb ribs, but if they're anything like pork ribs sign me up!
I took a stab in the dark that this would probably be a good harissa recipe so I decided to make extra for a barbecue at the weekend. I put 3 capsicums into the oven to roast so I could remove their skin, before deseeding and placing in the food processor.
Capsicums roasting, time to start peeling the 60 cloves of garlic needed for the skordalia (a Greek potato-based thick purée/dip). There’s sparse mention of skordalia in the book, other than a short recipe in the ‘Go-To Recipes’ section towards the back. I therefore used a bit of common sense, and happily peeled and roasted the garlic in a dish full of oil, positive that anything with confit garlic, lemons and olive oil would be delicious, even in an as yet unknown potato dip.
With the capsicum roasted, I added the other ingredients to the processor for the harissa. It is somewhat difficult to measure large quantities of herbs in cup sizes, which is this cookbook’s choice of measurement. I was unsure as to whether I was meant to squash the herbs into the cup or loosely fill it. I decided to go with loose – I could always adjust to taste later.
There are a couple of very interesting pages in the book where Al talks about a task he used to set his trainee chefs. He’d send them away with a flavourless potato soup and ask them to bring back something delicious. The principles of this are that everyone will bring something new to the dish thanks to the subjectivity of taste. This can be applied to all of his recipes – you start to notice why certain ingredients are used in dishes and what they’re bringing to the overall flavour. The harrisa was tasting great – but I wanted more coriander and lemon, so I added a touch more. Perfect!
You can buy lamb ribs pre-separated or as lamb flaps with the skin on. I'm sure the dish would work well with separated skinned ribs if you didn't want to have the hassle of removing the skin and excess fat, but the recipe asks for a whole slab to be divided after braising. To ensure I didn't mess with any cooking magic, I bought flaps and went about trying to sharpen a knife to remove the skin and excess fat from the top. Having dealt with pork ribs before I thought I should try to remove the membrane from the bottom too. The recipe doesn't mention it, which I thought, was odd as it's fairly standard practice with pork ribs. I peeled anyway.The harissa is used as a wet rub and I left the ribs to marinate in it for a day before braising.
After braising I couldn't resist peeling a little lamb off to taste. It tasted good at this point but I was worried that there wasn’t enough flavour and maybe they were going to be a bit too ‘lamby’. I was also a little concerned that they weren't cooked enough, despite having put them back into the oven a few times. A lot of the recipes give you a cooking time and then times to check after that until they are done. The ribs went in for an hour and I checked at 15-minute intervals after that. I thought they felt about right at 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Because I’m impatient and just wanted to eat ribs already, I threw them into the freezer instead of the fridge to cool down before slicing into individual ribs. Then I cooked them on the barbecue. While on the barbecue the recipe said to brush with more harissa. This is where the magic really happens, somehow with the caramelisation that harissa transformed from good to wow. So sweet, with a gentle even heat and so many perfumes and spice notes! It becomes the best barbecue sauce you've ever had (the ingredients lists for most barbecue sauces aren't much different). I couldn't resist smothering it over some pulled pork I made for sliders in lieu of barbecue sauce. It worked a treat!
Back to the ribs, I was anxious about how tender they would be, there seemed to be more marbling of fat than pork ribs and maybe they hadn't been low and slow enough! But they were perfect, if, like me, you're a fan of American TV show Barbecue Pitmasters you'll know that a rib is done right when you can take a bite easily and you leave toothmarks in the meat. I think I managed to achieve that! The flavour was great and subtle enough that it didn’t overpower the meat.
The skordalia was interesting, I wasn't sure if I loved it or mildly disliked it. The recipe wasn't clear as to weather I should re-heat to serve, but an online search suggested it could be presented cold or warm. I went with cold – perhaps I’d have preferred warm. I think I used too spicy an olive oil, which did somewhat overpower the dip. Either way there was too much; I hadn't made as many ribs as the recipe recommended as I was only serving 3 meat eaters.
Lamb Ribs with Harissa is a good recipe and actually quite easy to get right.