Last year, I had a my first attempt at recreating a dish I had eaten at a restaurant purely and utterly from taste bud memory. The results were actually quite surprising, surprising in that it actually tasted quite good and didn't end up as a pile of mashed flavours. The snazzy dessert from Cafe Vue did wonders to boost my confidence, and thought me a valuable lesson on portion control, a full bowl of white chocolate mousse does not equal one serve. Recently, I tempted fate and had another go at recreating a dish I had tried at Bar Lourinha. And interestingly, the results were even better than my Cafe Vue attempt!
I really enjoyed the jumbo couscous with Moroccan lamb on the night. The flavours were intense, the dish was satisfying and definitely left me wanting more. Since I’m currently trying to avoid my McConnel curse, going back to Bar Lourinha just to have a bowl of this couscous is not ideal. Surely it can’t be that hard right, I’ll just try to make it myself at home.
I’m glad to report that the results were fantastic. No, the flavours weren’t quite the same, but the backbones were all there. It’s extremely hard to recreate the exact same spices as the original dish, to be honest I think mine is a little too simple. But in the end, the home version won a lot of fans - Daz and I!! It was warm and comforting. So creamy with the addition of sour cream, those little morsels of Moroccan flavoured lamb just popped in your mouth and my favourite of all was the texture component from the crushed pistachios, just down right delicious. Once again I failed to learn my lesson regarding portion control, I cooked enough to serve 4, between Daz and I the whole lot was gone before 10pm. Sigh.
One thing that certainly caught my eye when the jumbo couscous came to our table was the sheer size of the couscous. I know the menu said jumbo, but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be that big! And sadly that is the first point of difference between my couscous and Bar Lourinha’s. Mine isn’t quite as big, and on this occasion - to me size really does matter! I cooked the couscous al dente, perhaps if I had cooked the couscous a little longer it would have fluffed up more, but it definitely wouldn’t have become jumbo, extra large maybe.....certainly not jumbo.
The original Bar Lourinha dish
To me, the key step in this entire dish is the chicken stock. It must be full of flavour, and properly reduced to get all that gelatinous texture from the bird into the soup. Its so crucial as the stock is what gives the couscous its flavour and some of its creamy buttery texture. I know this make the recipe extremely long and lets face it troublesome, but there are places that sell good quality chicken stock already made. Well worth the time and effort.
By the way, you're probably wondering where I got my jumbo couscous from. There are plenty of pearl couscous products in the supermarkets at the moment, but this recipe calls for something grander! On a lazy afternoon while chomping on a South Melbourne Market dim sum, I stumbled across a packet of giant Couscous in front of the nut shop, so naturally I bought it. Later while at the other nut, I think it was Rita's, I noticed they sold the same Couscous by the kilo. Giant Couscous everywhere!
There’s a couple of things I would have done differently, I would cook the lamb slower and for longer. I found the lamb in my dish a little chewy compared to the original. I think it needs to completely melt in your mouth without the need to chew, chewing is over rated! I also think I need to tweak the spices, I suspect Bar Lourinha probably uses a multitude of other spices I haven’t considered. And I would cook the couscous for a lot longer. I was growing extremely impatient with the whole dish, ok I lie....I was hungry so as soon as the couscous was cooked I plated up. Once again, I really think it needs to be very soft and fluffy.
I’ve included the recipe the way I made it on the day, without my recommended changes. So in the end, the dish doesn’t taste exactly like the original although it does come pretty close. Regardless, I will be making it again and again and probably again.
Jumbo Couscous with Moroccan Lamb
Chicken Stock (this can be prepared in advance and frozen)
1 medium sized boiler hen, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 onions, cut into quarters
2 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
2 carrot, coarsely chopped
1 leek, white part only, coarsely chopped
1 garlic head, broken into individual cloves
half a bunch of thyme
a few sprigs of rosemary
10-15 sage leaves
5 or 6 bay leaves
1 tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp black peppercorns
Moroccan Spiced Lamb
Small leg of lamb (under 1kg)
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp black Pepper
1 tsp Ginger powder
1 tsp ground Turmeric
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp chili powder
3 cloves of garlic, mashed into a paste
4 tbs olive oil
2 cups of giant couscous
3 shallots, diced very finely
3 cloves of garlic, diced very thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1.5liters of chicken stock
Diced Moroccan spiced lamb
100g of sour cream
a few springs of flat leaf parsley
2-3 tsp paprika
50 grams of toasted and crushed pistachios
For Chicken Stock
1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Cover with plenty of cold water. 4-5 liters. Place over medium high heat and bring to the boil, once boiling reduce heat and allow it to gently simmer. Simmer for 3-4 hours. During the cooking time, skim as much as the sum and impurities from the stock. Allow to cook until the stock becomes well flavoured with the chicken and vegetables and reduced by half. Remove the chicken carcass and as much of the vegetables and herbs as possible, then strain to remove any small portions. Place in a suitably sized container and allow to cool with the lid off. Once the stock has cooled, place in the fridge and allow the fat that has settled on the top to solidify, this step my take a couple of hours. Once the fat has solidified, skim it off and your stock is ready to be used, this recipe makes 2-3 liters, depending on how much the stock is reduced. I divide my stock into small portions and place in the freezer. That way I will only defrost as much as I really require.
For Moroccan Spiced Lamb
1. Pre-heat oven to the highest temperature it will go. The oven needs to be really hot so the meat will quickly sear when its placed in the oven, this will lock in the juices and forming a spice crust.
2. Place all herbs and spices in a bowl, I use a mortar and pestle because I tend to buy whole spices, but mixing the ground spices together is just as effective. Add the garlic paste and olive oil and combine to make a spice paste. Cover the entire lamb leg with the spice rub and place on a baking tray.
3. Place lamb into hot over for 15-20 minutes, make sure to keep an eye on it as it can quickly begin to brown. We want it to brown, but not burn. Reduce temperature to 180-190C and cook for a further 45 min-1hr, cook until the meat is still pink in the middle. As I mentioned earlier, next time I would reduce the temperature to 150-160C and cook for much longer.
4. Allow the meat to rest for 15-20 minutes and then cut into small bite size chunks. The lamb can be prepared well in advance as it will be re-warm when the couscous is cooked.
1. Place chicken stock in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, reduce heat and allow to stay hot.
2. In the large frying pan, over medium heat add olive oil add garlic and shallots and saute until tender and fragrant. Add the couscous and lightly toast for until all the couscous has become covered in the oil, similar to risotto.
3. Add half the hot chicken stock and cook, while occasionally stirring, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add a few ladle's worth of stock to the pan and allow the stock to be absorbed, repeat until the couscous is cooked and fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add lamb and cook until all ingredients have warmed.
4. To serve, place couscous on a dish, add a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle with a little paprika and pistachios and garnish with parsley.
I dare you to only eat one serve!!