Recipes for roast lamb and lamb casserole
- Credit: Archant
Recently I bought salt marsh lamb leg steaks and learned days later, that salt marsh lamb from Wales' Gower peninsula has just been awarded the first protected designation of origin status under the new post-Brexit scheme.
Grazing on samphire, sea thrift, and other salt-tolerant grasses in coastal marshes, the lambs are slaughtered from July onwards and produce a full, deep flavour and fine-grained texture. Rather than serve with traditional accompaniments, I cooked the steaks fast and high on the griddle and served them plain to appreciate their unique qualities.
Next time I will serve it with a tangle of steamed or blanched samphire with melted butter. A sauce based on laver, the Welsh seaweed which you find in good fishmongers, would also be an ideal match.
Another lamb to consider is baby lamb, hill-raised and finished at 3 to 4 months old instead of 6 months plus which is traditional for the British market. It 's smaller than we are used to - a whole leg weighs around a kilo - and considered a delicacy in southern Europe where the Spanish, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks pair it with garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon tomatoes, olive oil, olives, peppers and aubergines.
I cook it slowly, roasting a leg or shoulder on a bed of sliced onions and potatoes, but caponata, the Sicilian stew of aubergines and tomatoes in olive oil, is the perfect match to most lamb dishes, especially when grilled, roasted or fried as in costine di agnello, a speciality from Romagna, where trimmed cutlets are flattened, dipped in beaten egg, then a mixture of fine breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan.
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In Britain we share a fondness for the lamb and mint combination with the Middle East. I find our classic mint sauce vinegary and overpowering. Instead I make a sauce derived from ancient Rome; and although rosemary is the classic 'lamb' herb, I sometimes substitute lavender flower heads and stalks.
Roast lamb dinner with mint sauce (serves 4 to 6)
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1 half shoulder, 1 half leg and a rack of baby lamb, chine bone removed
2 cloves garlic, crushed with 1 teaspoon sea salt and half a teaspoon of pepper and mixed with a tablespoon of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil and a tablespoon of English honey
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
4 lavender flower stalks
½ teaspoon each freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, celery seed, cumin seeds and fennel seeds
150 ml tablespoons Herefordshire cider
1 tablespoon English or Welsh honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
If using spring lamb, which is larger than baby lamb, choose either two or three trimmed racks, or a leg. Rub all over with the garlic mixture. Place in a roasting tin on a layer of thinly sliced onions and potatoes and tuck the lavender stalks around the meat.
Roast for 1 ½ to 2 hours at 180 C. If there’s just two of you, roast the rack only, putting it on top of the bed of potatoes and onions after about 40 minutes, and roasting it for 18 to 25 minutes, depending on size and how rare you like it.
Meanwhile, crush the seasoning and spices in a mortar, then work in the cider, honey and vinegar. Pour into a sauce pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes to reduce. Allow to cool, then strain into a jug and stir in the finely chopped mint leaves.
My second recipe is an adaptation of a dish I ate in Castile, a lamb casserole cooked in red wine in the same pot as onions, potatoes, and carrots. It might also contain chick peas, spinach or beans and can be adapted to use seasonal British ingredients; new potatoes, runner beans and fresh mint. Instead of red wine, I have used Herefordshire cider, and a dash of English mustard.
Casserole of young lamb (serves 4 to 6)
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon each nutmeg or mace, ground pepper and salt
1 heaped teaspoon English mustard powder
2 kilos young lamb, off the bone
(use the bones to make lamb stock)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
4 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
6 medium potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered,
4 sprigs of mint, leaves removed and put to one side
300 ml Herefordshire cider
250 g runner beans or peas or broad beans - or use a mixture of all three
Put the dry ingredients in a paper bag, and shake the pieces of meat a few at a time until coated with seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan, and brown onions, then the meat, a few pieces at a time. Transfer the onions and meat to a casserole, together with the carrots, potatoes and mint stalks. Pour the cider into the frying pan, bring to the boil, scraping up any residue stuck to the pan, reduce by a third and pour over the meat and vegetables. Cover with the lid, and cook in the middle of the oven at 180C, or on top of the stove on the lowest possible heat for 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking, remove the mint stalks, add the beans and half the mint, finely chopped.
Scatter on the rest of the mint to serve.
©Frances Bissell 2021. All rights reserved.