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The Story of The Moroccan Sheep

At Ramekins and Wine we’re always looking to create new dishes that go magnificently with specific wines, that showcase the wizardry involved in a perfect match. In this series of blogs we’ll go behind the scenes of our ramekin creation, where we tweak, twist and fine-tune our ideas until they’re ready to become part of the game.

The Moroccan Sheep

Hogget, Aubergines, Burnt Onions, Pomegranate and Mint

The food of North Africa is some of the most ethereal, unique and complex we’ve come across. The warm, spicy, fruity tagines and stews cooked forever and a day fill the passages with a thick, persistent, sweet scent that makes you want to eat…NOW. We decided to explore these flavours a little more, to see if we could find a fragrant, spicy wine to match.

Aubergine and Lamb is a true classic of world cuisine. When flame grilled until they flop and submit (following a stoic, stubborn resistance), Aubergines are a joy unlike much else, all smoke and charred flesh. Combined with flavours of northern Africa - dusty spice, rose, lemon and herb, they make a very suitable partner to slow cooked shoulder of hogget (old lamb - traditionally one year old at least), braised until it virtually disintegrates upon eye contact. Further, it’s a fun opportunity to find a wine that’s up to the challenge - and challenge it is - of making such a mixture even better.

Getting the balance of this dish right was tough. We tried a number of cuts of sheep at various ages, but found young lamb neck too delicate, shanks too overpowering and sweet, roasted leg a bit unusual in the context and most mutton slightly unrelenting and dominant in texture. But Hogget, and especially the shoulder, was perfect. Sinuous and soft enough in equal measure, long fibres of meat, pulled from the bulk with ease - nothing like cheese strings at all.

The Aubergines were a no brainer, they had to sit on an open hob, they had to make an enormous mess of the stove and they had to look like they’d been in a fight with Mike Tyson before they’d be allowed into the ramekin. But that is, after all, how they become so smoky and delicious, slit along the sides and left to char away on the open flame in their tough, resilient skins.

Onions taste fundamentally different depending on whether they’re allowed to remain their original colour or alternatively given the heat to go brown (the secret is to allow them to go brown slowly). Both ways were tried, but taking them to an almost burnt state over an hour or so provided such a brilliant, slightly bittersweet counterpoint to the sheep that it was decision made. A little lemon and some ground coriander gave an aromatic lift.

Finally we played around with many garnish possibilities, from zests to coriander, tahini to shallot and even apricot gel (damn, too sweet). In the end however the classics are classics for a reason, so simple flat leaf, mint and pomegranate seeds are sprinkled, and a lemony, salty yogurt drizzled.

And what of the wine? It was a tough challenge. We tried many, but found the key to be a full bodied red with low-ish acidity - acid in the wine can easily cancel out acid in the food and this dish relies on the acid to keep it fresh and to make sure it eats well. Contemplate, contemplate, hmmm, what to choose, decisions, decisions - it came down to a Spanish Grenache, a Chilean Merlot or a traditional French Malbec from Cahors. Which one did we go for? That would be giving the game away.

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