A little bit sweet and sour, smoky and meaty, these coffee lamb ribs came about trying to recreate a dish I vaguely remember from childhood called “coffee lamb”.
I say vaguely, because the problem is I really have no idea where the dish came from, or even what it tasted like – all I had to go on was that I had eaten something with lamb and coffee at some stage while growing. Which is, you know, really helpful. It’s kind of like knowing the name of a song, and having to describe it without knowing the tune or lyrics…how hard could that be?
I knew the coffee would provide depth as well as bitterness, so I added brown sugar and tamarind for sweet and sour. Lamb and cumin? Check. Lamb and anchovies? Yes please (well, kind of – I went with fish sauce instead, but anchovy fillets would do just as well). Round it out with onion, garlic and mustard, a bit of spice and hey presto.
I have no idea whether this manages to recreate my virtual childhood memory, but for now let’s just call it an homage – after all, it’s still pretty good!
Coffee Lamb Ribs
1 kilo lamb ribs
60 milliliters strong coffee (which amounts to a double espresso, which is perfect)
5 cloves garlic (around 20g)
1 medium onion (around 150g)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)*
50g tamarind pulp soaked in 100 milliliters of warm water and sieved (to yield about 100g)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fish sauce
* If you don’t have any chipotle powder handy, you can substitute half a teaspoon of cayenne powder for a bit of spice. I’ve also used ancho chili before with good results – just soak and blend with the other ingredients for the marinade.
Put everything except the lamb ribs into a blender or food processor and puree till smooth. Toss ribs with the marinade and leave for at least 3 -4 hours, preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 150° C.
Lay ribs in single layer in wide ovenproof dish. Bake uncovered for about two hours, or until the lamb ribs are tender, and sauce is reduced and coats the ribs nicely.
Cooking time will vary depending on your ribs – I’ve had batches range from just an hour to 3 hours, so just check on them periodically. You may also need to drain off some of the fat halfway through if necessary.