Imagine preparing a dish with a mixture of approximately 25-100 different spices? That is what you would find in this spice mixture from North Africa, specifically Morocco, called ras el hanout. The meaning behind the name of the mixture is “head of the shop”, similar to the expression “top-shelf”. So, it literally refers to the best spices that the store has to offer.
Being of the most fundamental flavors and aromas of Moroccan cuisine, ras el hanout is the country’s ‘national spice blend’. Though this is a popular spice blend, shops or companies competitively create their own unique secret blend, some boasting of their mixture containing the rarest ingredients. No two recipes are ever alike, so creators of a particular blend would be hard-pressed to divulge information of that powdered treasure. Which makes it all the more intriguing to learn how to use it.
Ras el hanout is not a spicy blend, but it provides aromatic and warm flavors. True, you can add some chilies or peppers to raise the heat level, but ultimately you want as many of the characters of the blend to work together enhancing whatever dish you are preparing. Spices such as coriander, and cumin take the lead and are complimented by sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Conveniently you can add ras el hanout in marinades, as a rub, or seasoning for dishes like stews that will add a distinct North African flavor.
You can find ras el hanout in the following specialty shops:
- Holy Land, 2513 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis MN 55418
- World Street Kitchen, 2743 Lyndale Ave S. Minneapolis MN 55408
- Bills Imported Foods, 721 W Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55408
After finding out that ras el hanout is perfect when preparing a lamb dish, I journeyed from St Paul to a meat shop in the Linden Hills area and purchased a lamb shoulder. Check out my lamb preparation for the first time!
Lamb Shoulder Roast
2 lb. boneless lamb shoulder
3 cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
1 small shallot, minced
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 Tbsp ras el hanout
3-4 sprigs of rosemary, remove leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
(Marinade for 2-3 hours, preferably overnight)
With a small sharp knife, cut slits over the lamb shoulder. Insert the garlic and rosemary into the slits. Mix olive oil, shallot, and ras el hanout spice blend. Drizzle mixture over lamb shoulder. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and place in refrigerator. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to placing in the oven.
Roasting: Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Place shoulder in a covered roasting pan, allowing approximately 4 hrs for roasting. Use the pan juices for basting. Uncover and raise oven temperature to 275 degrees cooking for an additional 25-30 mins. Allow roast a 15-minute rest time before slicing.
Potatoes or other vegetables are a great compliment to this dish, as I added some jalapenos, mushrooms and carrots to round out the roast.