Raan, the Show Stopping Lamb Leg Found at South Asian Feasts
By Pervaiz Shallwani
Showstopper lamb legs span the globe. They are prized across several religions for a celebration-worthy roast.
In the meat-eating communities of South Asia, that means Raan, the special meal lamb or mutton leg found at Muslim celebrations is the kind of centerpiece that graces tables at holidays such as Eid or a good wholesome dawaat.
I was reminded of Raan this past Christmas as we were preparing to tackle a Heritage mutton leg for our annual big-day roast. We ended up shelving the technique for a recipe that was less spicy due to the somewhat spice conscious crowd. But I have been itching for an excuse to break it out.
As we settle into spring, when this year the three religions will be celebrating major holidays within weeks of each other – Eid, Passover, and Easter – why not Raan for a twist on the lamb leg.
This Raan recipe adapted from celebrated British Chef Asma Khan, is worthy of any gathering, the fragrant marinade perfumes the house as it cooks. The decadent fried onion infused ghee is used to baste the lamb to help create the mahogany crust. The resulting flavor has guests shouting out (or at least resisting the urge to) “God damn!”
Pro tip: Khan says, “this is a surprisingly easy dish to make,” and she is not wrong.
NOTE: Sizes of Heritage lamb and mutton legs vary. The one we used for this recipe was about 7 pounds.
- 1 leg of lamb, hogget, or mutton
- Kosher salt
- ½ cup of ghee
- 1 large onion thinly sliced into half moons
- 1 cup full-fat plain yogurt
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon kashmiri chili powder
- 4 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 teaspoons white pepper
- 8 tablespoons of chickpea (gram or besan) flour
- 2 tablespoons ground almond
- 2 tablespoons ground poppy seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground mace
- 8 tablespoons grated raw green papaya
- 20 strands good-quality saffron infused in one tablespoon of tepid milk
- ¾ cup of heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons good quality kewra water (optional)
Fully defrost and dry lamb leg using paper towels. Using a sharp knife, cut away any excess, large clumps of fat, making sure not to cut too much from the fat cap. Using the tip of the same knife, make small slits all over the leg. Place the leg on a roasting pan lined with a wire rack and salt liberally.
In a large saucepan, heat the ghee over medium–high heat, add the onions and gently fry until golden brown and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the pan and set on a plate to drain. Set aside ghee to use later.
Grind the browned onions to a paste. Place the yogurt in a large bowl and mix in the ground onions with all the other ingredients except the lamb leg. Stir until the ingredients are evenly combined.
Rub the yogurt marinade all over the lamb leg and leave to marinate for three hours in the refrigerator. After 3 hours, take it out and repeat the process – make more slits all over the lamb leg and reapply the marinade to the meat, reusing any marinade that has collected in the tray. Leave to marinate for an additional three hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Take the lamb out of the refrigerator one hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature, and preheat an oven to 400 degrees.
Place the lamb in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook, basting regularly with the ghee used to fry the onions. Allot about two hours for cooking or about 15-20 minutes per pound. If the marinade is starting to burn, tent the leg loosely with foil. Using a meat thermometer, check the thickest part of the meat to make sure it is done, about 130 degrees for medium rare.
When done, pull from the oven and let the leg rest on the rack for at least 15 minutes. To serve, place the whole leg of lamb on a serving platter and carve into thick slices at the table.
— Adapted from Asma’s Indian Kitchen: Home-cooked food brought to you by Darjeeling Express by Asma Khan
Pervaiz Shallwani is an award-winning journalist and trained chef based in Brooklyn, where he runs the hot dog popup "Chaat Dog" — a mashup of his Chicago upbringing & Pakistani heritage — and a Substack called “Stinky Lunch Kids Strike Back: The story of American food." His approach to cooking: learn the rules and then use that knowledge to break them. He promises to eat anything (edible) at least once.