Eid al Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice) is an important, festive day in the Muslim community, and Moroccans have a long list of traditional dishes which might be made during eid or in the days which follow. L’ham M’hammar or Lham Mhammar (Roasted Meat) with lamb or beef is one of them, and it’s one of the first special occasion recipes a Fassi (from Fez) girl will learn to master after watching her mother and aunties make it every single eid.
L’ham M’hammar is not reserved exclusively for eid, however. You’ll also find it served at big family gatherings or other special occasions such as wedding or birth celebrations.
What Is M’hammar?
In Moroccan cooking, the word m’hammar refers to two things:
- Meat or poultry which has been roasted in the oven or fried for a crispy texture and to acquire a coppery mahogany color; and/or
- The color ahmar, which in Arabic means red . Generally this comes from the use of paprika in the sauce or the marinade.
In the case of this recipe for L’ham M’hammar, the word refers to both. The meat (l’ham) is both roasted and reddish (m’hammar) in color.
Tender cuts of meat such as beef or lamb shoulder or leg of lamb are preferred, and large sections of rack of lamb work fine as well. You can also use the same base recipe to cook a m’hammar of chicken, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time.
Although not much effort is required to make Moroccan roasted lamb, you do need time—time to marinate the meat, time to braise it, and time to oven-roast it for browning. Plan ahead because shortcuts are not an option here. Long marinating and slow cooking are key to a tender, flavorful result, and the onions added during braising must reduce to a paste-like confit known as daghmira. Your patience will be rewarded, and you’ll be pleased to know that m’hammar works beautifully as a make-ahead dish that’s also freezer friendly.
In the very old days, the braised meat used to be browned stove top in clarified butter instead of roasting. The oven method below, however, is the one I remember from my childhood. I’d see my parents using a home oven for a few kilos (kilograms) of meat or a public oven for larger quantities.
L'ham M'hammar Recipe - Moroccan Roasted Lamb or Beef with Onion Confit
- 3.3 lbs. lamb or beef shoulder with bones, cut into 5 large pieces (can also use leg or rack of lamb)
- 18 oz. of yellow onions, finely sliced or chopped
For the Spice Rub
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
- 1 tsp smen (or ghee or olive oil)
- 1 1/2 tbsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1 pinch saffron threads
- 1/3 to 1 cup water
- 2 to 3 tbsp oil, mixed olive and vegetable oil
- 3.5 oz. almonds blanched and fried
- Combine the spice rub ingredients in a bowl or with pestle and mortar. Rub the mixture over the meat and massage it thoroughly. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- When ready to cook, transfer the meat to a heavy-bottomed, deep pot or pressure cooker. Add the sliced onions, saffron threads, water and oil. (Note: Use 1/3 cup water if preparing in a conventional pot and 1 cup water if preparing in a pressure cooker.)
- If cooking in a regular pot, cover and simmer the meat for about 2 hours or until tender, checking occasionally to add a little water if the liquids appear to be drying out. If cooking in a pressure cooker, cover and cook with medium-low pressure for about 80 minutes or until tender, swirling the pot occasionally to be sure that liquids remain and the meat and onions aren't burning. Interrupt to add a little more water only if necessary.
- The meat is cooked to proper tenderness when you can easily pinch it off the bone. When done, remove it from the pot and cover with plastic so it doesn't dry out.
- If you are serving this dish in the next hour, place the meat in a 400° F (200° C) preheated oven for about 20-25 min, turning it occasionally to brown it on all sides. Adjust the browning to your liking.
- In the meantime, continue cooking the onions, stirring frequently and taking care not to scorch them, until they have reduced to a paste-like texture. The cooking oil should be the oil liquid you see in the pot.
- To serve, place the meat in a warm dish and surround it by the onion paste (daghmira). Traditionally it is eaten by hand directly from the platter, using pieces of bread in lieu of a fork.
- This is a great do-ahead dish which will keep in the fridge for a week or longer in the freezer. Refrigerate or freeze the meat (after the braising step) and the reduced confit of onions separately. The meat should be then thawed and roasted when needed and the confit of onion should be heated separately on the stove.
- Moroccan tea is often served immediately afterward as it's believed to help with digestion.