Friday, December 28, 2007

Fet-Ta : Egyptian Lamb Feast

This is a favorite dish of mine because it incorporates so many flavors. The tastes of lamb, rice, saffron, pine nuts, crisp bread, garlic and vinegar all conspire to make this meal one that you cannot stop eating. This is a dish that is both tangy and rich in meaty satisfaction.

This dish is traditionally served at the Big Feast and made with mutton. Egyptian mutton is quite tasty, but American mutton tends to be more gamy, and is hard to find. Fet-ta is also traditionally made with plain white rice.

I have made two major changes to the dish, and I think you will agree that they are improvements. Instead of boiled mutton, I use grilled lamb. Instead of white rice, I use saffron rice. These two changes amplify the Mediterranean flavor of the dish while preserving its authentic texture.

Hint : I use lamb shoulder blade chops. These can be found at very reasonable prices, but offer the same delicious flavor as the more expensive
lamb chops which cost five times as much. If you separate them down the middle along the bone line, you come our with a very reasonable facsimile of a lamb chop.

There are two ways to cook lamb, and both are good if you do it right.

The popular American way to cook lamb is like a steak. It is cooked fast on high heat and served medium rare. This tastes fine, but the meat tends to retain most of its fat, and can be tough if cooked too fast or too long.

My preferred style is to cook the lamb slowly and drain the grease regularly. This maintains the natural tenderness of the meat while reducing the fat content. This style also accentuates the natural flavor of the meat.


  • 4 lbs of lamb shoulder blade chops
  • 2 loafs of Syrian (pita) bread, I prefer the whole wheat variety
  • 2 cups of jasmine, brown rice, or a mixture of the two
  • 4 tbs dry oregano
  • 2 tbs Hungarian paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp red Egyptian saffron, this ingredient is optional, but it adds to the look of the dish
  • 1 tbs Fresh ground pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
  • 2 heads of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pat of butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups hot water, not boiling, just hot.


Prepare the Meat

    1. Cut the blade chops down the middle using the natural seam.
    2. pound the chops with with a meat hammer or other tenderizing tool.
    3. sprinkle both sides of each chop with salt, rub with chopped garlic and top with the oregano, cumin and pepper.
    4. Let the meat stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours to absorb the flavors of herbs.
    5. Place the meat in a large flat skillet, I decided to use my new Wolfgang Puck Reversible Grill/Griddle 0050 because it has channels to drain the grease.
    6. cook on low heat, flipping often. I use a bacon press (see picture) to prevent the chops from curling when they cool. This will also keep them tender.
    7. Continue this process for about 1 hour or until the meat develops a chocolate brown color and has shed a good amount of grease. See the illustration at the top of this recipe for the color.
    8. Remove the meat from the stove, cover and place in the oven to keep it warm.

Make the Rice (Fool proof method)

    1. Heat a pan on high heat and melt the butter in it. Add the olive oil to the butter, bring to a light simmer.
    2. Fry the rice in the oil/butter mixture, stirring well.
    3. Add the garlic, saffron and 1 tsp of salt. Mix thoroughly.
    4. Add the hot water, the rice will come to an instant boil. Stir quickly.
    5. Turn down to low heat, cover and let cook about 10-15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
    6. Leave the rice covered with heat off for about 5-10 minutes. This helps the rice absorb all the steam and complete cooking.
    7. The rice should have a beautiful red color.

Toast the Bread (while the rice is cooking)

    1. Chop the bread into 2 inch squares or triangles.
    2. toast until crisp in the oven or toaster oven
    3. let cool

Make the Sauce (this is what makes the dish really sizzle)

    1. heat a skillet, then add 1 tbs of olive oil.
    2. Fry the onion until brown, add the garlic, fry until the garlic is brown.
    3. Stir in the pine nuts. Bring the mixture to high heat.
    4. Pour the vinegar over the mixture and stir thoroughly
    5. Let the vinegar simmer until the acidic odor is reduced and the mixture develops a nice luster.

Build the dish

    1. Spread the bread across the bottom of an attractive dish.
    2. Layer the rice over the bread.
    3. Layer the meat over the rice.
    4. Pour the sauce over the meat.
    5. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. This allows the sauce to soak all the way down to the bread.
    6. Let's Fete !

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