Moroccan spiced lamb breast with herb couscous

SousVideLambTitle © J Horak-Druiff 2013

Compared to most people I know, we entertain rather a lot here at Cooksister HQ.  Sometimes it’s ambitious all-day braais for 30 people; sometimes more intimate lunch parties for six; sometimes just the neighbours over for dinner.  But however many people are coming, I always hope that they find my house a relaxed and comfortable place to be; that they do not feel as if they have to be on their best  behaviour, or that I am neglecting them in any way.  So when I recently saw an article in a local newspaper headed “Biggest dinner party host faux pas”, I felt compelled to go and have a look and see whether I was guilty of any major ones.

SousVideLambSpices © J Horak-Druiff 2013


The list was the result of a survey by furniture manufacturer Hygena and was a peculiar combination of the expected and the unexpected:

  • 54% of guests are annoyed by a host doing too much texting on the phone or playing with a tablet
  • 45% of guests expect an abundance of toilet paper
  • 43% of visitors cringe at couples’ public displays of affection
  • 42% of guests complained that their hosts leave them alone for too long
  • 36%  of  guests despair at not being offered any liquid refreshments
  • 36% of guests have hated being left on the doorstep due to a broken doorbell or the host being out
  • 31% dread fending off their hosts’ pets or dealing with animal hair
  • 26% get annoyed by low temperatures in a host’s  home
  • and an equal number (19%) resent being left to play with their hosts’ children or being asked to take their shoes off


SousVideLambBreastRaw © J Horak-Druiff 2013


OK, the texting,  being left on the doorstep, being abandoned alone, dying of thirst, shivering with cold, or enforced babysitting duties of the host’s kids do not come as a surprise to me. And to be fair, I have also been in lounges where I simply did not know where to sit as everything was fuzzed over with a layer of pet fur. But are guests really upset by PDAs?  Would they prefer open conflict (always a greater likelihood in my house when the pressure is high in the kitchen!)? And I am not sure how anybody can get truly upset by being asked to remove their shoes in the house – but then my guests are always offered slippers or socks. And there is always enough loo paper to sink a small frigate, so maybe guests will forgive my cat when he brings them his toy to play fetch (yes, he really does this). On balance, I think I’m doing OK as a host if I:

  • provide drinks and snacks upon arrival
  • let guests choose whether to hang out with me in the kitchen or with Nick in the lounge
  • err on the side of overcatering so that nobody goes home hungry
  • scrub the guest bathroom to within an inch of its life and stock it with towels, soap and loo paper
  • offer guests our WiFi password (you can so tell I hang out with bloggers!)

What are YOUR biggest turn-offs when you are a guest in somebody’s home?


SousVideLambSealed © J Horak-Druiff 2013


A couple of weeks ago we had some friends over and I had to muddle through without the benefit of this list.  Ignorant as I was of the needs of my guests (!), I figured the important part was to have tasty food on the table at a reasonable hour before everybody chewed off their hands; and to spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying myself with my guests. In an effort to clear some space in my freezer, I had done a quick inventory and discovered a frozen lamb breast stashed behind the ice-cream (as one does!), and had decided to make that the centrepiece of the meal. Now the lamb breast is a curious  and lesser-known cut, also known as lamb belly but lacking the cachet and tenderness of the ever-popular pork belly. It is an oblong-shaped part of the forequarter containing ribs and alternating layers of fat and meat.   If the ribs are removed you end up with a thin layer of meat, fat and gristle, usually sold rolled up in the style of a roast.  But do not be fooled – this is no more good for roasting than stewing steak is good for barbecuing.  It is, however, very very cheap and in these straitened times, that makes up for a lot.


FreshHerbs © J Horak-Druiff 2013


The only way to coax a delicious meal out of lamb breast is by long, slow cooking and in this house, that means dusting off my sous vide machine.  I have previously written at some length about what sous vide cooking is and how it works, but in a nutshell it denotes a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath at a carefully regulated constant temperature.  The cooking times are unusually long (up to 72 hours) and the temperatures are much lower than are normally used for cooking, typically between 55°C (131 °F)  and 60°C (140 °F).  Cooking sous vide means that much of your dinner party prep can take place while you sleep or while you are at work; and it also means that given enough time, even the toughest, cheapest piece of meat can be cooked to fork-tender perfection using this method. Having previously had edible but disappointing results cooking a lamb breast like a traditional roast, I’d been dying to see how it would turn out if cooked sous vide.


HerbCouscous © J Horak-Druiff 2013


The spice rub I used is an adaptation of the one on my favourite Nigel Slater slow-roast lamb recipe, given added Morroccan flavour by the addition of ras-el-hanout. I have made this twice, once for something like 18 hours at 55C; and once for 8 hours at 57.5.  Both work fine if you want the meat to be medium rare, which I did:  the meat remains pink but becomes beautifully tender – streets better than my previous attempt at speedy oven roasting! (Please note that if you want the meat to be medium, you need a temperature of about 60C and a cooking time of 12-15 hours; and if you want it well done you will need a temperature of 65-70C and anything from 15-20 hours.) The long time that the spices spend in close quarters with the meat means that their flavours truly infuse right through, and the fat that can sometimes be overwhelming with lamb cooks out into the bag so that you can discard it.  I served my lamb on an appropriately Moroccan bed of fresh herb couscous alongside roasted slices of aubergine doused in more ras-el-hanout.  And who can complain about taking off their shoes when the food tastes this good?


SousVideLambFinal © J Horak-Druiff 2013


More blogger lamb recipes include:


4.2 from 5 reviews
Moroccan spiced lamb breast with herb couscous
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Lamb breast is an extremely cheap cut that benefits from long slow cooking, making it ideal for a sous vide machine. The Morroccan
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Moroccan
Serves: 4
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbs sea salt flakes
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • ½ tsp ras-el-hanout
  • 1 Tbs coriander seed
  • 1 Tbs cumin seeds
  • 2 Tbs thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • a thick slice of butter
  • 250g quick-cook couscous
  • 375ml hot water or stock
  • A handful of fresh chives
  • A handful of fresh mint leaves
  • A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and pepper
  1. Fill the sous vide machine and pre-heat to 55C.
  2. To make the spice rub, peel the garlic cloves and lightly crush them together with the salt using a pestle and mortar. Add the paprika, cumin seeds, coriander seed, ras el hanout and thyme leaves and continue to crush together. Gradually add the oil so as to end up with a thickish paste. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir into the spice paste.
  3. Carefully remove any string or elastic tying your lamb belly roll together and flatten the meat (you may find that it is actually several pieces of flattish meat rolled together. Spread all sides generously with the spice paste.
  4. Re-roll the meat and tie securely into a roll. Place the meat into a heavy duty plastic pouch and vacuum seal it. Place the sealed pouch into the sous vide machine, close the lid and set the timer to 12 hours.
  5. When the meat is ready, turn off the machine and prepare the couscous. Finely chop the herbs. Place the couscous into a large bowl and add the hot water/stock. Cover with a plate and allow to stand for 10 minutes or so, then fluff up with a fork and stir in the chopped herbs. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
  6. Remove the pouch containing the meat from the sous vide machine. Cut open the bag and remove the meat, reserving the juices. If you want a crispy exterior, place the meat in a roasting tin in a very hot oven for 10 minutes, turning frequently till browned - but I did not bother with this.
  7. If you want gravy, spoon or pour off as much of the fat as possible from the juices and heat the remainder in a small saucepan and thicken with a little cornflour mixed with cold water.
  8. Serve the lamb sliced on the couscous, alongside slices of roasted aubergine.
  9. NOTE: 1. I wanted my lamb medium rare but if you want yours to be medium, you need a temperature of about 60C and a cooking time of 12-15 hours; and if you want it well done you will need a temperature of 65-70C and anything from 15-20 hours. 2. If you have no sous vide machine, try slow-roasting the lamb in a closed casserole dish with 500 ml of stock at 150C for three to four hours.

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  1. says

    WOW! the meat looks incredibly tender!! NOw you are convincing me to get a sous-vide machine!! Hmmm….

    Btw I agree with the oddity of PDA on that list! Ok, I can understand, perhaps, not full blown make out session in front of guests; that may make them feel akin to voyeurs but.. displays of affection?! :)

    For me, the put offs are store bought thoughtless food and boring company. Everything else is amusement in one way or the other…

  2. says

    Mmm this lamb is making me hungry again and I already ate supper!

    Probably I’m guilty of leaving folk in the frontroom although I only do this if they’re family and there are a lot of them. Otherwise I have people in the kitchen with me. I do envy people with open plan layout rather than traditional Victorian – in sumer our new doors mean we can see our guests in the garden at least!!

    Am totally coveting a sous vide the more I see you’ve done with it. Not that I need any more gadgets but it does look mighty good for meat.

  3. says

    Looks absolutely delicious, I love lamb belly if cooked well, nice n slow. Such flavour! As to pet hates as a guest, it has to be hosts arguing (serious arguing) and then asking guests to give their opinion. That’s happened to me. Awkward no-win solution. Give me lovey dovey hosts anytime (obv I’m not expecting to watch foreplay!!). Great pics as always :)

  4. Audrey says

    Looks delicious, though I would have to use the oven. At Swiss Cottage farmers market yesterday there was a stall with ‘boer goat’. I asked and found that it came from SA. Have you heard of it?

  5. says

    Oh how lovely this looks and the meat cooked sous vide must make for such tender portions. Yum. like you we entertain more than the average folk but not had too many bad experiences as guest or host! (other than once having blue cheese in a starter at a small dinner party and I cannot stand that but having to eat it to be polite…)

  6. says

    Such a lovely recipe, loving the spice rub and all the flavours flowing through. I don’t have a sous vide machine yet but I might be tempted to try one out in the new year. IN the meantime, I’ll slow roast as you suggest.

  7. says

    Yum, good looking lamb. I had put some spices aside for you. Must not forget them next time.
    I have got to say I am in the 42% of people who hate to be left alone while the meal is being prepared.

  8. says

    Looks damn tasty to me! This Sue Vide thing might be worth investigating, if I had some space in my kitchen – no room for guests let alone more kitchen equipment!

  9. says

    Okay, you serve me this gorgeous lamb breast and I will play fetch with the cats and sit on cat hair. It looks fabulous and I am a freak for lamb!! I have never cooked lamb this way; usually I make it in stews or just grill slices. Gotta try this.

    The survey was amazing, I mean where have those surveyed been invited?? But I do really hate when the bathroom (and kitchen) are filthy. No excuse. Oh and when they drone on and on about work when there are too many of us at the same table who do not share the same workplace. Or when they talk about cars, boats or similar.

  10. says

    That has almost tempted me to covet a sous-vide machine – usually I avoid extra gadgets like the plague!
    My worst when visiting people is the starvation regime, when you arrive for the time invited and the host hasn’t even started cooking. So you are plied with drinks and fill up on peanuts, so are sozzled, bloated and ready for bed way before dinner is eventually served! This memory is from years ago when I was pregnant and needed regular sustenance and an early bed-time, but I still remember it as the low-point of a friend’s entertaining. Oh and perhaps like the comment below, friends who are fighting with each other and expect you to take sides.

    We are probably guilty of over-effusive pets, PDAs and sometimes in winter a rather chilly house, though no-one is expected to take off their shoes, as the pets treading on toes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!

  11. Helen Neal says

    Just spotted this and tried it yesterday. Followed instructions to the letter. 12 hours in my sous vide supreme. It was not good. It was rubbery. I think you have the wrong temperature in your recipe. 55 degrees c is too low.

    • Jeanne says

      Hi Helen and thanks for your comment. The problem with lamb is that both the cooking time and the temperature in a sous vide depend on how “done” you want the lamb to be. In this specific case, it was a rolled roast, and I did not want it to fall apart as I sliced it, plus I like my lamb on the rare side. 55C and 12 hours is exactly what you need for rare lamb and for my purposes, the results were perfect (and a lot better than any other way I’ve tried to cook lamb breast, which is naturally a rubbery cut). I have made this recipe a number of times and have never had complaints. However if you want your meat more done, you are right: the temperature should be up to 60C for medium and you can leave it in for longer. I will edit the post to reflect this :)

      • Helen Neal says

        Hi. I understand. Personnally I prefer a cheaper cut to be well done, shoulder of pork being a good example. I loved the spice mix. I will try this again, but at the higher temperature. Thanks for responding.