Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Lamb - Cute and Tasty

Thank heavens that lambs grow out of that 'unbearably cute' phase pretty quickly, otherwise I could never again eat my favourite meat. But cute or not, I always think that sheep have a very nice time. They're not intensively reared, trapped in restrictive pens like chickens and pigs can be, they eat grass, they have what seems to be a simple and carefree life in the fields. A meat to eat with a relatively clear conscience?

Last week was spent in the Lake District, and the fields were full of baby lambs. I think Rob was getting a bit sick of my constant exclamations of "oooh! Little lambs!!!" They were everywhere. I really should have stopped with the excitement, but they just got me every time.

Despite this overdose of cute, I managed to tuck in to a tasty plateful of lamb 3 times during the week...

We were staying in a cottage in the village of High Lorton, and a mere 10 minute walk away was this excellent pub in Low Lorton, the Wheatsheaf. Good food, reasonable prices, great beer on tap, nice ambience, unpretentious - what more could you want in a village pub? (And free books too! They were having a clear-out, I picked up a couple of top quality retro cookbooks to add to my collection). Both Rob and I had the 'Wheatsheaf Lamb' that you can see on the menu. Melt-in-the-mouth tender, with a tasty sauce - although I always prefer a little more gravy with my meat.

Later on in the week we drove to the Kirkstile Inn in Loweswater. This small hotel has become justifiably famous in the area - we had to book a few days in advance just to get a table in the atmospheric bar, the only place worth sitting in in this cosy pub (I don't know about you, but I can't bear the sterile ambience of the 'Family Room' invariably found at the back of a pub, or what is often the style-free zone of the dreaded 'conservatory'. I want to be by the coal fire. And by the bar). The food here was also great value and great tasting - once again I went with the shoulder of lamb, slow-roasted for 4 hours, and this time swimming in rich gravy. The beers, brewed on site, were superb. I was really glad we'd made the effort to book.

We arrived home in Buckinghamshire on Easter Eve and whipped the shoulder of lamb out of the freezer ready for Easter Day! You'd think I'd be sick of it, but not a bit of it. The shoulder is my favourite cut of lamb. Fatty and hard to carve if roasted incorrectly, but done right it's a moist and tender meat that literally falls off the bone. I got the idea of slow-roasting it from Nigella Lawson's gorgeous Lamb and Mint Salad, from Nigella Bites, probably the recipe that I have cooked most from that book. I now use a similar method to this for cooking a traditional Sunday roast lamb:

Slice an onion, placing it in the bottom of a large roasting tin, along with 4 or 5 bruised cloves of garlic (unpeeled) and a spring of rosemary. Place the shoulder of lamb on top and give a generous scattering of salt and pepper.

Pour in about half a pint of boiling water, then tent the tin with foil. Place in a slow oven - about 150C - for between 4 and 6 hours. But no need to worry about setting a timer - it's difficult to spoil the meat using this method!

Remove from the oven when you need to turn up the temperature for the roast potatoes, but place the lamb back in, foil removed, for the final 30-45 minutes before serving. This crisps up the gorgeous skin.

The lamb will have produced lots of wonderful sauce as its juices mix with the onion, garlic and rosemary, and the water will have stopped it burning. It will also have released lots of fat, which I always carefully pour off. What is left can be served as it is, as a flavourful gravy, or thickened slightly with cornflour if desired. The matter of gravy is a very personal one so I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do!

The lamb doesn't need carving, simply shredding slightly as it pulls easily from the bone.

With apologies to the little lambs...