A whole lamb cooked in a pit

Boys, eh? They just love cooking outdoors. Man make fire blah blah blah. HE always takes charge of the BBQ, apparently. What a load of old twaddle. If I’m having a BBQ, there’s only one person brandishing the tongs and unsurprisingly, that’s me. It’s one of those infuriating and pointless distinctions like the one between ‘man food’ and ‘woman food’. Yes, that’s right dear, you chow down on that juicy hunk of cow flesh while I nibble at a few lettuce leaves and remember to look pretty.

I’ve come across this idiotic stereotypical bullshit in relation to the book (Gastronaut by Stefan Gates) that inspired Danny a.k.a The Food Urchin to cook a whole lamb in a pit in the ground. The book is a bible for the adventurous cook; you’ll find methods for making your own biltong, instructions for fashioning a smoker from a biscuit tin and of course how to cook salmon in your bathtub. It’s the kind of book that some men like to think women won’t get involved with.

Danny, by the way, is not guilty of making any such ridiculous assumptions, he’s a bloody nice bloke and I’m not just saying that because he invited me and about 30 other people round to share the lamb, all because we once cooked for him as part of this project.  Myfanwy was her name and eating her was our tasty game.

The ‘pit’, called an ‘Imu’, is apparently popular in Polynesia, where people traditionally filled the pit with hot volcanic rocks which stored the heat nicely. Stefan recommends using bits of iron as a replacement but Danny used some of the bricks you find inside storage heaters – a stroke of genius I think you’ll agree. She cooked for 9 hours in that pit; not a peep from her. Not a teasing waft of smoke or indeed any heat – apparently the ideal situation. And when it was finally time, the raising up was quite a spectacle; not unlike raising a corpse I thought to myself, before realising that was exactly what was happening. Myfanwy, God rest her soul, nestled firmly into the shell of a shopping trolley, was shovelled, huffed and lifted out by five capable and excitable men. Us women just stood by and looked pretty.

What emerged was the most incredibly fragrant and tender meat. Nine hours hunkered down in close quarters with a gang of root vegetables and a bushel of rosemary gave Myfanwy the sweet perfume she deserved and the totally confined cooking method rendered the meat the texture of pulled pork. We fought the cats for falling scraps.

My contribution to the meal was some baba ganoush, which went down really rather well hence me deciding to share the recipe. The key to a gorgeous baba is to blacken those aubergines as much as possible; you want them collapsed, wheezing,  juicing and charred all over. The best way to achieve this, I think, is to stick them directly onto the gas flame on a cooker; it’s much quicker than grilling and never fails to achieve the desired effect. It makes a right mess of course but you’re rewarded with a super smoky baba. Priorities, priorities.

If you want to cook your own lamb in a pit, or indeed a goat, pig or deer, then I suggest you contact Danny. He’s the man who’s done it after all and he can warn you about any pitfalls (sorry). Gastronaut is also one for the wish list. Don’t be daunted, you can start with the small challenges and work your way up to your own Welsh beauty; why not consider a spot of home made cheese making? A bash at creating some biltong? Or perhaps you’d like to fashion a smoker from a biscuit tin.

Hats off to Danny though, he is now, in my eyes, the Bear Grylls of the culinary world. I’ll have to delve into that book sharpish and redress the balance for the sisterhood. The bit where Stefan travels around the human body though, giving pointers on the best way to ingest the fluids and scrapings from almost every orifice, is strictly the territory of the man folk. I mean, seriously ladies, some things really are a man’s job.

Baba Ganoush

6 large aubergines
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lemons
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
1 handful parsley leaves, chopped
4 tablespoons yoghurt (or more to taste)
6 tablespoons tahini (I like a good whack but you may want less)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Salt and pepper
A slug of olive oil

Pierce the aubergines with a fork and place directly on the gas rings of a hob (1 per ring), or put them under a grill, turning occasionally until blackened all over and collapsed. Remove to a plate and let cool slightly, then scrape the flesh from inside, leaving any bits of blackened skin and liquid on the plate behind. Blend with all the other ingredients and season and adjust as necessary. You may want to add more lemon, yoghurt or salt for example.

Allow to sit for a few hours before serving with hot flat breads or pittas and ideally, a pit-roasted lamb.

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19 thoughts on “A whole lamb cooked in a pit

  1. love aubergine prepared like that- charred over a flame. so good. and what a day- we do smthg similar in Pakistan- a whole goat cooked in a pit, stuffed w rice! what a day you had. x shayma

  2. Kavey – she was. I am still in awe. Thanks for your praise of the baba!

    KSalty – I do, literally, just put then on the gas flame. They take it really well. Just leave them on there and turn them with tongs when they are black on the bit that is in contact with the flames. I use a fairly low heat.

  3. This whole lamb-pit day sounded hilarious.
    With your delish sounding Baba, do you literally place on the gas, no pan or nuffin’? Or hold in tongs and hover just above the flame?
    K x

  4. I went to a couple of umu feasts when I went to the Cook Islands – they were effing awesome. Top work to Danny for recreating, amazing!

  5. So glad you’re sharing your baba ganoush – as I said on the day, one of the best I’ve had for a long time, properly smokey, beautifully flavoured. Just perfect!

    And myfanwy was bloody marvellous wasn’t she?

  6. Great write up Helen, so glad you enjoyed it, now run along and put the kettle on will you darling, there’s a good girl………………………..kidding!

    If you ever need help digging that hole on your balcony though just drop me a line.


    PS About the bricks, the pit had been stacked with wood and set alight at 6AM. We dropped the bricks in about 8AM and the lamb went in at 10AM. We also had a seperate fire heating more bricks and charcoal to place on top of the basket.

  7. Fantastic effort by Danny – I have eaten food cooked in a pit once before in New Zealand I think it is also a traditional Maori way of cooking – I agree it does make the meat or fish very tender.

  8. I’ve heard very many good things about this baba ganoush since the lamb pit day. It now features in my list of Things I Want To Try.

    A brilliant, hilarious post.


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