Saturday, 14 March 2015

Braised and roasted M'hammar of beef (or lamb) with its confit of onion: L'ham M'hammar

Eid Al Adha is a big day among the Muslim community. As Moroccans, we do happen to have a long list of dishes ready for/during the occasion.

M'hammar of lamb or beef is one of these festive dishes which can also find their ways to our tables during the rest of the year, especially when we host our families and friends.

Being married to a British man, I just can't always serve a classic Sunday roast, looking almost the same every weekend. Not being a big fan of red meat myself, I can only enjoy it when falling of the bone and nicely seasoned (besides salt and pepper). 

M'hammar of meat falls right into this category of recipes with meat you would really enjoy even if you are not big on red meat.

In Moroccan cooking, the word M'hammer (as explained in my previous post) refers to two things; The fact of roasting a bird or meat. It also refers to the colour Ah'mar which is red (not H'maar which means donkey), most likely coming from the use of paprika in the sauce or to rub the bird/meat. In today's recipe, the word used means both.

Lightly roasted M'hammar, a matter of choice

Main cuts of meat which can be used in this dish: chunks of shoulder or leg, rack of lamb cut into big pieces as well.

Roasted M'hammer with a crunchy crust in the outside and tender meat in the inside.
You can also use the same recipe to cook a M'hammar of chicken, you just need to adjust the cooking time obviously.

It does not require much to make this traditional recipe. But one thing it definitely needs: time! Time to marinate the meat, time to braise it and time to oven-roast it. A meat which is not pre-rubbed with spices and then braised to tenderness is not an option here.

In the old old days, the meat used to be browned in clarified butter instead of roasting it but since I was a child I've seen my parents using a home oven for a few kilos of meat or a public oven for big ceremonies.

M'hammar of lamb or beef is one of the first festive recipes a Fassi (from Fez) girl will have to master while watching her mother making it every single Eid.

I love the confit of onions accompanying the meat so I tend to make a lot of it
Although we don't serve it with vegetables (usually served as salads all around the table), It happens that I steam and sautée some vegetables in butter (potatoes, carrots, green beans..) to accompany the M'hammar because that's the only way my husband will eat vegetables. You gotta adjust don't you?

An unusual way of serving M'hammar of meat with sauteed vegetable
but it makes a complete meal in one dish

Serves 6
Prep: 5 min - Marination time: 6 hours - Cooking time : 90 -120 min - Roasting time: 20 - 30 min

  • 1.5 kgs of lamb or beef shoulder meat with bones , cut into 5 chunks (use leg or rack of lamb).
  • 400 - 600 g of yellow onions, finely sliced or chopped 
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp of smen
  • 1 tsp of ground black/white pepper
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of sweet paprika
  • A good pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 tsp of salt or to taste 
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • 2-3 tbsps of oil

For a festive presentation

  • 100 g of blanched and fried almonds.


In a pestle or mortar, mix all the spices (except saffron threads) along with smen (or olive oil). Rub the meat and massage it thoroughly. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Rub the meat and massage it very well with the spice mix
In a deep cooking pot, place the meat with the rest of the ingredients. Cooking this in a pressure cooker takes 80 mins approximately it could take 120 min or more in a standard cooking pot with a loose lid. Add water in case the bottom of the pot looks dry. The lid needs to be properly sealed so the meat cooks well in this period of time without too much water added.

Pinch the meat and check if it comes off the bone easily. If it's the case, fish it out and cover it with a cling-film so it does not dry out.

Once the meat has braised to tenderness, fish it out and cover it.
If you are serving this dish in the next hour, place the meat in a preheated oven at 200 degrees for about 20-25 min, flip it around to brown it from all sides. Ajdust the browning to your liking.

In the meantime, carry on stirring the onions until they dry out of any water and look rather like a brown paste. The cooking oil should be the oil liquid you see in the pot.

The meat goes to the oven for roasting/browning, how much browning is a choice
Place the meat in a warm dish, surround it by the onion paste (daghmira). Serve hot with bread. Make sure there is a hot Moroccan tea served right after this to help with the digestion.

The confit of onion or onion paste should be silky and reduced.
No water should be left.

You could make this dish and keep it in the fridge for a week. We also freeze them meat (after the braising step) and the thick confit of onions separately. The meat will be then thawed and roasted another time.

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