Moroccan Steamed Sheep's Head Recipe

steamed head meat with salt and cumin
Moroccan Steamed Sheep's Head. Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Ratings (8)
  • Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs
  • Yield: Serves 2 to 3

While many of us in the West don't grow up eating head meat, trotters, tails and other variety meats, such cuts are regular fare in other parts of the world. In Morocco, for example, steamed sheep's head is a much-anticipated dish around the time of Eid Al-Adha, when many families have the meat on hand after a home slaughter. It's also a popular offering at Moroccan ​grilles, particularly those who operate next to a butcher. 

Ingredients

  • 1 sheep's head (cut into 4 to 8 pieces and washed thoroughly)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 small bunch of parsley and/or cilantro (tied into a bouquet)
  • 1 onion (very coarsely chopped or sliced)
  • Optional: additional salt for dipping
  • Optional: additional cumin for dipping

Steps to Make It

  1. In a large pot or pressure cooker that's fitted with a steamer basket, bring a large quantity of salted water to a boil. Be sure the water level is below the bottom of your steamer basket. 

  2. In a large bowl, combine the salt and cumin. Add the meat and toss, using your fingers to help rub and distribute the spice mixture evenly over the meat.

  3. Add the onion and parsley to the boiling water.

  4.  Fit the meat into the steamer basket and follow one of the cooking methods below:

  • Pot method. Reduce the liquids to a simmer and fit the steamer basket into the pot. (Note: If you notice steam escaping from the edge of the basket where it meets the pot, remove the basket and create a seal by wrapping a very long piece of plastic wrap over the rim of the pot; reinsert the basket).  Cover the basket with a layer of damp cheesecloth, close the lid tightly, and steam the meat for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, or until the meat is very tender and can be pulled easily from the bone. Check on the level of your liquids during cooking and add more water if you feel it's necessary.

  • Pressure cooker method. Insert the steamer basket in the pressure cooker. Close the lid tightly and bring to pressure over high heat. Once pressure is achieved, reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and can be pulled easily from the bone.

Serving

  1. Serve the steamed sheep's head on a large platter with small dishes of salt and cumin on the side.

  2. The steamed meat is traditionally eaten from the communal dish by hand, dipping bite-sized portions into the salt and cumin.

  3. Before the head can be cooked, it's charred over coals until completely blackened. The burnt fur and skin are scraped off, the head is cut into half and then, if desired, into pieces. The brains are removed and cooked separately; the tongue is steamed with the head.

Tips

  • Aside from cleaning the head as described – and of course this will already be done if purchasing the meat from the butcher – steamed sheep's head is quite easy to make. 
  • The prep time assumes the head is ready for cooking. Cooking time is for a pressure cooker; double this time if steaming conventionally in a pot fitted with a steamer basket. For the latter method, you will need some cheesecloth.
  • For a traditional presentation, serve the meat with salt and cumin on the side for dipping. Also, try Couscous with Sheep's Head and Vegetables and Moroccan Steamed Lamb.