Monday 16 January 2017

Luscious lamb

Moist and full of flavour, leg of spring lamb is an easy and delicious option to rustle up for a family gathering, says Brenda Costigan. So, while it's roasting away in the oven, you can concentrate on preparing some really tasty sauces and vegetables to accompany it

Brenda Costigan

Published 18/04/2010 | 05:00

When the evenings begin to stretch and the birds begin singing to mark their territory, you know that spring is well and truly here. Spring lamb is the sweetest of meats -- reared on rugged terrain, the animals graze on wild herbs and grasses, which give a wonderful flavour to the flesh when it's roasted. The meat is naturally moist, and it rarely suffers from the dryness that can affect some joints of beef or pork.

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Garlic, rosemary and all the wonderful flavours of the Mediterranean seem to mingle so well with lamb.

Good tips are: know the weight of your joint; let the meat come to room temperature before roasting; season it well before roasting; and, after cooking, rest the meat for 20 minutes before carving it to allow the fibres to relax.

A meat thermometer is an excellent guide to help you judge when meat is cooked to your requirements.

ROAST LEG OF LAMB

(Pictured)

There are different sized legs of lamb available throughout the year. Discuss the number you are cooking for with your butcher, and ask his advice. A thumbnail guide for the number of servings is, for a leg of lamb with the bone in, to allow about 300g (11oz) per person.

There are many different ways to prepare a leg of lamb for roasting. A typically French way is to make little incisions with the point of a sharp knife at roughly regular intervals over the surface of the leg of lamb. Then, insert slivers of garlic and tiny sprigs of rosemary into the incisions.

A quicker way is to mix chopped fresh rosemary leaves and chopped garlic with a little olive oil and spread this over the surface of the meat. A squeeze of lemon juice and maybe a little grated lemon zest sprinkled over the meat along with the rosemary and olive oil adds a good flavour too.

During roasting, sitting the leg of lamb on a small bed of chopped vegetables mixed with herbs and garlic is another method of introducing extra flavour. Place the bed of vegetables in the centre of the roasting tin.

But, equally, you can simply sit the lamb directly onto the tin. Serves 6.

You will need:

1 leg of lamb, about 2kg (4½lb)

3-4 cloves garlic

A few sprigs fresh rosemary

A few sprigs thyme, (not too many, so as not to overpower the rosemary)

2 medium onions, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

300ml (½pt) vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7.

Be sure to take the lamb out of the fridge a good 30 minutes or more before you begin cooking to allow it time to reach room temperature, otherwise it will take longer to cook.

Mix the garlic and the sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, with the chopped onions, carrots and celery. Moisten the mix with a little olive oil, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place this mixture in the middle of the roasting tin and sit the leg of lamb on top. Drizzle some olive oil over the surface of the lamb and season it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the vegetable stock into the tin.

Put the roasting tin in the preheated oven. Roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat of the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. Continue roasting until the fat is golden and crisp, and the meat is done as you would like it.

Cook your lamb for an initial 20 minutes, then about 15 minutes per 450g/1lb for a rare lamb, or 20 minutes per per 450g/1lb for a well-done lamb. Ovens do vary, so bear in mind these times are just a guide.

If the vegetables begin to look rather dried out during roasting, then pour more hot stock around them.

Remove the cooked lamb from the oven and transfer it to a warm serving plate. Cover with foil and then a tea towel to keep the heat in while the meat relaxes for about 20 minutes before carving.

In the meantime, make the gravy.

For the gravy, you will need:

The vegetables and juices left in the tin after roasting the lamb

600ml (1pt) hot chicken or vegetable stock or hot water

3-4 tablespoons ruby port (optional)

1-3 teaspoons redcurrant jelly (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

25g (1oz) kneaded butter -- butter and flour mashed to a paste (optional)

Having removed the meat from the bed of vegetables, tilt the tin and spoon off any fat that remains on the top of the juices.

Then, pour the piping-hot chicken or vegetable stock, or hot water, whichever you are using, into the tin and mix and mash the vegetables with it. Strain through a sieve, discarding the mashed vegetables (unless you like to nibble them!).

Add the ruby port and the redcurrant jelly, if you are using them. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and simmer everything together for a few minutes.

If you wish to thicken the gravy, drop small pieces of the kneaded butter into the briskly simmering gravy until the desired thickness is achieved. Don't overdo it!

MINT SAUCE

The wonderful aroma of fresh mint is one of life's little pleasures. Easy to grow -- some say too easy, as it can take over a garden -- it's a wonderful herb.

Sophie Grigson, in her cookbook Country Kitchen, suggests spearmint. Peppermint, she says, is a much stronger type of mint and likely to make your food taste of toothpaste.

The acidic flavour of the mint sauce goes well with the roast lamb. Serves 6.

You will need:

6 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

2-4 teaspoons caster sugar (or to taste)

3-4 tablespoons boiling water

4 tablespoons wine vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

You might find it handier to chop the mint leaves with the caster sugar sprinkled on them. Place the chopped mint leaves and the caster sugar in a bowl. Pour the boiling water over. Add the wine vinegar, or the lemon juice, if you are using either. Season with some salt and the freshly ground black pepper. If necessary, add an extra touch more caster sugar or vinegar.

Mint Butter

A good way to add fresh mint to a bowl of cooked new potatoes or to a dish of cooked peas is to mix the chopped mint leaves with some softened butter. Give a tasty finish to grilled fish or chicken by serving a teaspoon of this on top.

You will need:

110g (4oz) butter, softened

3-4 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

1-2 teaspoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together to taste. Mint butter will keep for a week or two in the fridge if it's kept covered with a lid or some cling film.

EASY PEAS

This easy recipe is inspired by Jamie Oliver. Prepare at the last minute because it is best served soon after cooking. Serves 4.

You will need:

4 handfuls frozen peas

½ wine-glass white wine

½ wine-glass water

2 good lumps of butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few mint leaves, chopped

Put the frozen peas into a wide frying pan or saucepan which has a lid and add the white wine, the water and the lumps of butter. Season with the salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

Cover with the lid and bring to the boil. Then, remove the lid and simmer for a minute or two. The liquid will reduce right down and the butter and wine will make a tasty sauce. Add the chopped mint leaves and serve.

MASHED PARSNIPS AND CARROTS

These combine well. Sometimes I like to cook the vegetables in a steamer, starting with the chopped carrots, and, when they are nearly tender, I add in the parsnips. Other times, I cook them in boiling salted water to which a vegetable or chicken stock cube has been added.

Introduce a subtle hint of sweetness by adding a little redcurrant jelly to the finished dish. Serves 6.

You will need:

500g (1lb 2oz) parsnips, topped, tailed and peeled very thinly

350g (12oz) carrots, topped, tailed, peeled very thinly and chopped

Lump of butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly or 1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Slit the peeled parsnips in two, lengthways, down their centre. Slit each half in two again lengthways down the centre. This will leave you with four long wedges of parsnip, with the centre core visible on each. If this central core seems in any way wood-like, cut it away and discard it, as it takes too long to cook. Chop the remainder of the parsnip into smaller pieces.

Put the peeled, chopped carrots in a steamer over boiling water, or into boiling stock. When they are half tender, add in the chopped parsnips.

Cook until both vegetables are tender. If you're cooking them in stock, then drain them well.

Melt the lump of butter in the rinsed-out saucepan, add the cooked vegetables, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and mash together. Mix in the redcurrant jelly or the chopped parsley, whichever you're using.

ROAST POTATOES

Rooster potatoes are a good choice for roasting because they are floury and fairly firm.

Dipping the potatoes in melted butter keeps the air off, which helps prevent them turning a bit black. This also allows you to prepare the potatoes a few hours before roasting, or even the previous day.

It might be a good idea to give the roast potatoes a final blast of heat under a hot grill to speed up the browning process.

You will need:

2-3 potatoes per person

Butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potatoes, then cut them in half or quarters and steam them until they are just tender. If you're boiling the potatoes in water, then leave the skins on and peel them after cooking, so they don't go mushy in the water.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Dip each potato into the butter, covering it completely, and place on the baking tin. Sprinkle lightly with the salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast the potatoes in a hot oven for 35-40 minutes until they turn a golden brown.

L

Sunday Independent

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