‘The secret to cooking with coals and to capture the essence of the smoky flavours is to have no flame and just the glowing embers,’ he says. This is a recipe in two stages – the whole lamb forequarter, which is smoked in the oven on a low heat, then sealed up to cook slowly. ‘The traditional way it’s done in Turkey is on these big skewers and they lower it into an oven,’ says Attila.
"Attila Yilmaz loves fire. He has a blowtorch that sounds like an express train, which he fires up to turn a pile of ironbark logs into a raging fire in his huge wood-fired oven; the coals then smoke and roast his signature smoked lamb shoulder to melting perfection." Maeve O’Meara, Food Safari Fire
- 1 x 1.5–2 kg, portioned lamb forequarter
- 2½ tbsp wild oregano
- 1½ tbsp sea salt
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To prepare the meat, separate the rack from the forequarter – but keep it rustic. Trim the excess large thick pieces of fat – but leave a decent fat layer on the meat, which will render down slowly and keep the meat moist.
Rub the meat all over with wild oregano and salt.
In a large ovenproof dish, place the shoulder on a rack so the meat is elevated from the dish. If doing more than one shoulder, stack the meat into a teepee, allowing as much surface area as possible for the smoke to circulate around and adhere to.
Pour some water in the bottom of the dish to create some steam, prevent the initial rendered fat from burning, and keep the meat moist.
Throw a few fresh logs on the fire in the oven (see Note) – let the fire grab a hold of the wood (Attila uses an air compressor to get the flames going).
Once the wood gets going, put the ovenproof dish in the oven (see Note). Then seal the oven door for at least 2 hours, or longer if you like. (If you see smoke escaping from around the edges of the door during this time, it’s a good sign).
After 2 hours the meat should develop a nice dark crust and smell of smoke. A good test is to taste the beautiful meat juice in the pan – it should taste sweet, salty and smoky. At this stage, you don’t want to colour the meat any more, so cover the meat with baking paper first, then foil. If you don’t use baking paper, the salt will react with the aluminium and eat through the bonding to the lamb, giving it a metallic taste. Put the dish back in the oven to continue roasting for another 3–4 hours in a sealed oven.
You know the lamb is ready when the shoulder blade pulls away cleanly and easily.
• Attila prefers to use ironbark in his wood-fired oven.
• The oven needs to be hot. At Attila’s restaurant the oven remains hot because it’s used every day – the walls of the oven will radiate the heat and maintain an even temperature. If your wood oven is still hot 2 hours before, light a small fire on one side of the oven. Let the flames die down to create glowing embers. We don’t want too much flame once the lamb goes in, as this will sear the meat too quickly. Get it to about 140–160°C.
Recipe from Food Safari Fire by Maeve O'Meara (Hardie Grant, hbk, $55). Photography by Toufic Charabati.