MCC: Andalusian Lamb


Welcome to the first installment of the Medieval Cooking Challenge, an exploration of authentic Medieval flavors from our modern-day kitchens. To get the scoop on future challenges, head over to the Medieval Cooking Challenge page and join the mailing list!


April is prime time for finding a leg of lamb in the grocery store,so it seemed the perfect month for my favorite 13th Century recipe from the cookbook that simply goes by An Anonymous Andalusian (translated by Charles Perry). (Needless to say, the Internet makes finding these sorts or references much easier.)

Stuffed and Roast Mutton; Called “The Complete” [or “The Inclusive”]

Take a plump skinned ram; make a narrow opening in the belly between the thighs and take out what is inside it and clean. Then take as many plump chickens, pigeons, doves and small birds as you can; take out their entrails and clean them; split the breasts and cook them, each part by itself; then fry them with plenty of oil and set them aside. Then take what remains of their broth and add grated wheat breadcrumbs and break over them sufficient of eggs, pepper, ginger, split and pounded almonds and plenty of oil; beat all this and stuff inside the fried birds and put them inside the ram, one after another, and pour upon it the rest of the stuffing of cooked meatballs, fried mirkâs and whole egg yolks. When it is stuffed, sew up the cut place and sprinkle the ram inside and out with a sauce made of murri naqî’, oil and thyme, and put it, as it is, in a heated tannur [clay oven] and leave it a while; then take it out and sprinkle again with the sauce, return to the oven and leave it until it is completely done and browned. The take it out and present it.

I found this recipe while putting together a Medieval feast for about 100 or so, several years ago. While I might have been momentarily intrigued by the idea of cooking an entire ram stuffed with all sorts of small poultry and game birds (not to mention mirkâs [aka lamb sausages] and meatballs) , it was a short-lived fascination. Instead, I made it much more manageable by taking the essence of the recipe and scaling it down into something a modern-day cook could make for her family or a group of friends.


Medieval Andalusian Lamb

Medieval Andalusian Lamb

Here’s how to taken this recipe from Medieval to Modern:

Medieval Andalusian Lamb

The Stuffing: 

1/2 lb. Chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 cup Almonds, roughly ground
1 cup coarse breadcrumbs
2 Eggs
1 tbsp Pepper
2 tsp Ginger
1/2 cup Chicken broth
2 Tbsp olive oil

The Lamb: 

6 to 8 lb. Leg of lamb, de-boned

The Basting Sauce:

1/2 cup Olive oil
1/2 cup Soy sauce
2 tbsp Thyme

Ingredients for the lamb fillingThe stuffing is quite simple: just toss everything into a bowl and mix thoroughly. You want something crumbly that sticks together, not soupy. Set aside until ready to stuff the lamb.

A few notes on the ingredients, though.

Almonds are quite common in Medieval recipes, used for their flavor as well as to thicken sauces and add texture. If you have an almond allergy in your home, walnuts and hazelnuts are both mentioned in other recipes of the period and would be appropriate substitutions (with hazelnuts being the better choice, flavor-wise). If yours is a strictly no nuts household, though, you could leave them out but the dish would suffer. We opted for something modern but safe: soy nuts. Whichever you choose, pulse them around in a food processor (or give them a few good whacks with a mortar and pestle if you’ve got one handy) to break them up but leave the pieces fairly large, just like the breadcrumbs.

Making coarse breadcrumbs the semi-old fashioned wayBreadcrumbs, in this instance, are not the powdery sort we buy in the store. Even the panko-style breadcrumbs are a little too fine. What you really want is to take a few slices of day-old bakery bread (or a couple of large bakery rolls) and shred them either in a food processor or with a box grater.

Deboning the lamb is simpler than it might seem. After doing more than 10 of these in my lifetime I’ve gotten quite good at them and have figured out the best possible plan of attack.

Tip #1 Defrost the lamb only partially. In school we took meat-cutting class in the walk-in refrigerators. A big part of food safety is temperature control so keeping the cold food cold while you’re manhandling it is important. Leaving the large hunk of meat semi-solid also makes it easier to cut through and less slippery as you move the pieces around.

the de-boned lamb

(vegetarians may want to look away)

Tip #2 Follow the bones you can see. You’ve probably got two bits visible: the skinny end of the leg bone and the hip socket. Do yourself a favor and start with the leg bone, following it straight up until it bends towards the hip socket. Then make a long cut between that bend and the visible hip socket. After that it’s just a matter of making small, precise cuts along the bone, separating the muscle without piercing the skin.

Tip #3 Save the bone! Pop it in the freezer until you want a really rich stock (like for French Onion Soup). Roasted bones make amazing stock and soup bases and a good Medieval cook would never throw away such wonderful raw materials.

Once the leg of lamb is de-boned (or if your butcher did that part for you and you’re now joining us at the counter), spread it out into as rectangular a shape as possible, with the cut side facing up. To make this work you may need to “butterfly” certain sections to stretch and flatten the larger muscles into the desired shape. Also, having the lamb on a flexible cutting board or sheet of wax paper will help with later steps (which I totally forgot to do this time and paid some messy consequences).

The flat and tidy lamb leg, ready for stuffingPat the stuffing mixture over the lamb, leaving a clear border along the long edges.

adding the stuffing to the lambCarefully roll up the layered lamb into a long cylinder. If you’ve got someone to lend an extra pair of hands it helps as you tie the roast closed with kitchen twine to keep it together in the oven.

Stuffed, rolled and tied leg of lamb(At this point you can wrap the stuffed leg of lamb in plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to 2 months with no fear of spoilage. Defrost completely before roasting.)

To roast the stuffed leg of lamb, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Mix together oil, soy sauce and thyme and pour about half of the mixture over the lamb which has been placed seam-side-down in a roasting dish. Roast for 9o minutes, basting with the other half of the oil mixture after about 45. Start checking the temperature after an hour–the center of the roast should be at 165° F to ensure doneness (a little pink on the lamb itself is generally a good thing, though).

in the roaster and basted with the sauceLet the finished lamb rest for 10 minutes before removing the twine and slicing into ½-inch thick portions. This should make between 8 (double-sized) to 16 (normal-sized) servings: perfect for a big family dinner or entertaining.

Adding Another Flavor Layer

In the original recipe, in addition to the stuffed poultry, meatballs and sausages were also called for. I’ve not included them in the past but since I was subbing out the almonds and taking away that little edge of the flavor, I wanted to add something else. Even though they look like meatballs, they’re actually flavored the way the mirkâs would be because I thought that was more interesting.

I totally eyeballed it, but to a pound of ground lamb I added somewhere in the neighborhood of:

2 Tbsp Soy Sauce | 2 tsp Pepper
2 tsp Coriander | 1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Lavender | 1 tsp Cinnamon

The only thing I’d add for the next time is at least 1 egg. Ground lamb tends to be incredibly lean and it can become dense and a little mealy without a little added fat.

Did they really have Soy Sauce in 13th century Andalusian Spain?

Not exactly. What they had was a sauce called murri naqî’ which was a fermented, salty grain-based condiment they used quite heavily in many of their dishes. When I first made this recipe, it wasn’t feasible to make your own murri naqî’ and soy sauce was the best fit out of modern products. Now, I learn, others have succeeded in making their own murri naqî’ , but soy sauce is easily available and accomplishes that umami flavor that’s needed.


If you’ve tried this and posted it on your own blog, link up in the comments below! And don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list to get the new challenge delivered to your email inbox at the beginning of each month!

3 thoughts on “MCC: Andalusian Lamb

  1. Hi Jennifer, I tried to sign up for the MCC newsletter and got back the dreaded 404 from two different recipes. Is this still available? I’m just starting to get my life together enough to experiment with cooking again, and enjoy most medieval recipes I’ve tried. Thanks!

    1. Alas, Terry, the MCC never really took off so I pulled the plug on it and moved onto other projects. The 404s were probably because I got rid of the domain these posts were originally on, so that’s for the heads up that I need to clean up some old links. Cariadoc’s Miscellany ( is a fabulous resource for Medieval recipes, if you haven’t found it already 🙂

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