"Admittedly, on the surface this dish seems a bit odd," says Achatz. "Cocoa, pumpkin, cardamom, lamb? This is a perfect example, however, of a technique we use frequently at Alinea called 'flavour bouncing'. You basically take a focal ingredient and begin to 'bounce' satellite flavours off it. The rule is, not only do the supporting ingredients have to go with the main ingredient, but also they all must go with each other. For instance, lamb goes with eggplant and lamb goes with cardamom, but does cardamom go with eggplant? Yes. You continue the bouncing of ingredients off one another until the dish is complete."
- 2.5 kg lamb shoulder, bone in
- 150 ml canola or grapeseed oil
- 3 onions, cut into large dice
- 2 small fennel bulbs, cut into large dice
- 75 gm ginger, finely grated
- 50 gm plain flour (1/3 cup)
- 40 gm garlic cloves, finely chopped (about ½ head)
- 30 gm long red chillies, thinly sliced
- 4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and bruised with the back of a knife
- 2½ tsp Madras yellow curry powder
- Large pinch of saffron threads
- 250 ml lime juice (1 cup)
- 200 gm brown sugar
- 2 litres beef stock (8 cups)
- 800 gm eggplant, cut into 2.5cm cubes
- 800 gm pumpkin, peeled, cut into 2.5cm cubes
- 370 gm crème fraîche
- Coriander, mint and finely grated lime rind, to serve
- 50 gm cacao nibs
- 30 gm coriander seeds
- 30 gm Darjeeling tea leaves
- 12 gm fennel seeds
- 10 gm green cardamom pods, bruised
- 7 gm whole mace (see note)
- 5 gm cumin seeds
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1For the aromatic sachet, tie ingredients in a piece of muslin and secure with kitchen string.
- 2Preheat oven to 160C. Heat a large roasting pan over medium-high heat and season lamb shoulder generously. Add oil to pan and when it starts to smoke, add lamb bone-side up and rotate to brown evenly (5-6 minutes), then turn and brown other side. Transfer to a tray. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, fennel, ginger, flour, garlic, chilli, lemongrass, curry powder and saffron to pan and sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are tender and spices are aromatic (8-10 minutes). Add lime juice and brown sugar, simmer until sugar dissolves (3-4 minutes), then add stock and aromatic sachet and bring to a simmer, stirring so no flour lumps remain. Return lamb to pan, cover with a lid or foil and braise in oven for 3 hours.
- 3Add eggplant and pumpkin to roasting pan, leave uncovered and braise until the lamb pulls from the bone easily with a fork (1-1¼ hours).
- 4Strain braising liquid from pan into a bowl, whisk in crème fraîche, and return to roasting pan. Season lamb generously, scatter with coriander, mint and lime rind, and serve.
Whole mace (also sold as mace blade) is available from Herbie's Spices (herbies.com.au) or other specialist spice shops. If it's unavailable, substitute a grating of nutmeg.