Every now and then I have a perfect lunch and this is what happened today thanks to my friend Jerome and my brand new meat grinder. Jerome (who is head chef at Mosimann’s) gave me some fabulous lamb (from the top of the leg, which he calls single muscle) for me to make kibbeh nayeh. As for the meat grinder, I wouldn’t have bought one if I hadn’t lost Ramiz, my brilliant Lebanese butcher at Zeina who decided to return to the home country. This said, I am pleased to have it because I now have total control over my kibbeh which is not to say that I would not have left this control with Ramiz if he had not abandoned me and many other faithful clients! Anyhow, I thought I would share with you the way to the ultimate kibbeh nayeh.
The best shawarma I have ever had was at Siddiq in Damascus. Unlike most other shawarma places, they grill theirs over charcoal. Also their marinade is exceptional. Sadly, it’s unlikely I will be going back to Damascus any time soon. And even when I do, who knows if Siddiq will still be there. So, if I feel like having shawarma these days I make my own. Obviously not the way they make it at Siddiq or even elsewhere – ie. by layering the meat onto a large skewer which is then put to rotate in front of a vertical grill – but the way my Lebanese butcher in London taught me: by slicing the meat into long thin slivers and marinating it before sauteing it quickly over a medium-high heat. He slices the meat very thinly but I prefer thicker strips so that it stays pink.
Tomorrow is my second chef-in-residence session at Leighton House and it is all about spice mixtures including as ras el-hanout, a mixture of nearly 30 different spices including various chillies, dried roses, the aphrodisiac Spanish fly (for which use the marquis de Sade ended up in prison; the sad thing is I did have some given to me by Lulu Grimes but I don’t remember where I stashed them), cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. Oddly enough ras el-hanout is not used that often, being added to some sweet-spicy tagines, game dishes and kefta. In winter people use it to make an infusion to cure colds because it has warming properties. Ras el-hanout means ‘head of the shop’ which reflects the value of its elaborate preparation. Its quality and composition vary from one spice merchant to another and from one family to the other. It is sold both in ground form or with the spices left whole as in the picture about, although you need to know your spices well to use the latter as you have to grind the right amount of each. You can find it in the West already ground and packed in small sealed jars or in plastic sachets but often the mixture you buy here is less complex relying heavily on more common spices.