This was a challenge. Oddly enough I had more trouble integrating basil into the mix than anything else – partly because I couldn’t get Thai Basil on short notice so I had to make do with the sweet Italian basil in the pot by the kitchen sink!
I decided to make a marinade first – fish sauce, garlic, orange juice, chilli and tomatillas (I am trying to put tomatillas in everything since we have pounds and pounds of them). But I ended up thinking about something a bit closer to a mussaman curry without the peanuts.
So here goes…
South-East Asian Lamb Braise
Blend/food process the following: four cloves of garlic, four fresh tomatillas (I used two purple, two green), one fresh chilli, the juice of one orange, half a cup of fish sauce. Before you juice the orange, cut the zest off it in strips. Put it in a bowl with two large lamb shoulder steaks and let sit for at least an hour – maybe two.
Heat a large flat pot on the stove with two tablespoons oil. Put the lamb in to brown after letting the marinade drip off – do NOT discard the marinade. After two minutes add two roughly chopped onions. Turn the lamb over once the bottom side is browned and brown the other side. Once browned, add the rest of the marinade and a cup of water, heat to a simmer and turn down as low as possible. Cook for an hour covered, turning the meat and stirring occasionally.
Coconut, orange, basil rice
In the meantime, put on some basmati rice to cook and use 1 cup of coconut milk in place of one of the cups of water to give the rice a lovely coconut scent and flavor.
Once the hour has passed (or longer if you want). Uncover the lamb and leave simmering to reduce the liquid. Put a small frying pan on to heat with a tablespoon of some neutral oil like canola. Take about twenty basil leaves and fry them fast in the oil making sure that they are kept still and do not touch. As they get crisp. put them on paper towels to drain. Once done with the basil, take the orange zest strips and recut to narrow strips less than 1/8 inch wide. Then fry these until a little crisp as with the basil, also putting them on towels to drain. Serve the rice onto plates and top with basil leaves and orange zest strips with a portion of the lamb on the side.
So, how did this turn out?
The lamb was mighty rich – maybe too rich – but the flavors all worked very very well together. The rice was also excellent but the basil got drowned out – next time double or triple the basil leaves and use thai basil. But the crispy orange zest was totally brilliant – I will be trying it again with many other dishes.