Give Pulled Pork a Day Off: Serve Pulled Lamb Instead

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Some days are pulled pork days. But every once in a while you wake up and say, "Pulled lamb—that's what I want. Long-cooked shredded lamb, tossed in a spiced barbecue sauce. And then, like, a slaw with mustard seeds." I mean this literally, because that's literally what I said several days ago. And then I made it. Because when a craving hits you so hard that it dictates its own terms, you listen, and then you do as instructed.

It felt like a revolutionary thought in the moment, but pulled lamb obviously isn't something I invented. Everything that makes pulled pork so good—the strips of tender meat glistening with fat and sauce—works just as well with lamb, but with a deeper, funkier flavor that stand up to even more aggressive spicing.

The one catch was I wanted to create and then eat my vision of pulled lamb urgently, which meant that there wasn't a chance in hell I was actually going to slow-smoke the meat. I live in New York City, where would I even do that? So I turned on my oven instead. And while we all know an oven can't produce true barbecue, my tastebuds were thoroughly uninterested in such trivia. And anyway, the oven is capable of making a damned fine, if not authentic, rendition of it.

The method I used is the same as for our oven pulled pork recipe, slowly cooking the meat in a Dutch oven with a small amount of liquid until tender enough to tear into shreds.

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I grabbed a boneless shoulder for my lamb recipe—it's a fattier, tougher cut with plenty of collagen that slowly melts in the oven's heat. After unfurling it on the butcher paper in which it had been wrapped, I seasoned it all over with salt and pepper, then sprinkled on a spice mixture I whipped up. My idea was to take a basic barbecue-style dry rub with brown sugar, cayenne, paprika, and the like, and spike it with a more assertive Indian spice mixture including garam masala (itself a mixture of warm and funky spices like clove, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin), turmeric, and ground ginger. I even slipped in some extra cumin to play up that more savory dimension. Then I tied the shoulder up with butchers twine—an important step to give it a compact form, which translates into more even cooking.

Next, I made a ketchup-based barbecue sauce, adding some of the dry rub to that along with a handful of other flavorings like Worcestershire, fish sauce, cider vinegar, and liquid smoke. That last one is important if you want to fake the slow-smoked flavor of barbecue; if you buy a good quality liquid smoke like Wright's or Colgin, which are made from nothing more than smoked water, it's actually not a bad facsimile.

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After searing the lamb shoulder, I added some diced onions to the pot, followed by some chicken stock and some of that spiced barbecue sauce, then put it all in a low 300°F oven until the lamb was fork-tender, roughly three hours or so. You'll want to cook it for the first couple hours covered, to trap the steam and keep the lamb moist, then uncovered for the last hour or so, allowing it to brown a bit more.

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When it was done, I put the lamb shoulder in a bowl, cut off the twine, then shredded it with forks. After skimming most of the rendered fat from the surface of the pot juices, it was time to spoon them into the meat to season and moisten it.

The slaw itself comes together rapidly: shred some cabbage, grate some carrot, then toss it with mayo, cider vinegar, parsley leaves, caraway seeds, and mustard powder. It should be bright and slightly crunchy for maximum contrast with the lamb, while the spices help keep the connected.

I have a feeling more days are going to be pulled lamb days going forward.

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