Mechoui is a North African lamb dish which is frequently prepared in Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Each nation has its own specific take on mechoui, so several different dishes are collectively referred to as “mechoui.” In all cases, this dish takes advantage of the flavorful tenderness of lamb to create a rich, memorable dish.
This term comes from an Arabic word which means “to roast on a fire,” distinguishing mechoui from dishes which are prepared in the oven. There are two basic ways to prepare mechoui. In places like Algeria, the lamb is roasted on a spit, creating a layer of crackling, crispy skin which many people find quite delightful. In Morocco, the lamb is roasted in the ground, much like a Polynesian pig roast, creating very moist, tender, flavorful meat. In both cases, the meat is heavily spiced before preparation.
Traditional mechoui utilizes a whole lamb, roasted in its skin. This means that the organ meats are cooked right along with the lamb, lending their own distinct flavor to the meat, and some Berber tribes have traditionally treated the grain-filled intestines as a delicacy, much like Scottish haggis. Certain prized organs like the liver and kidneys are typically offered to a guest of honor, along with delicacies such as the eye.
Most people eat mechoui with their bare hands, utilizing the right hand hand only, by tradition. This reflect a Muslim tradition of using the left hand for personal hygiene, rather than eating. The mechoui is often served as an appetizer in advance of the rest of the meal, and as you might imagine, the dish is designed to be served in a crowd.
In parts of the African desert, mechoui is a traditional festive dish, prepared in a pit Moroccan-style. One major advantage to preparing the mechoui with a whole lamb is that the dish is easy to transport in a hurry, if necessary, since the skin essentially acts like a carrying bag. This was undoubtedly usful historically, when tribes might need the advantage of being able to move quickly.
Many North African restaurants offer mechoui. Some prepare it whole, in the traditional way, while others simply use traditional North African spicing on lamb roasts such as leg of lamb. Good mechoui is often heavily spiced, with lots of garlic, making it an intense and very flavorful experience.