PUBLISHED: 16:43 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:04 20 February 2013
Martin Griffiths looks at the special relationship between Herefordshire's sheep farmers and the landscape and suggests some recipes using this wonderfully tender and flavour-packed meat
Local lamb a cut above
Martin Griffiths looks at the special relationship between Herefordshires sheep farmers and the landscape and suggests some recipes using this wonderfully tender and flavour-packed meat
Spring is the perfect time to look out for locally-sourced lamb. Lamb is one of the purest of meats as it is invariably free-range and free from artificial inputs. (Its simply not viable for farmers to chemically fertilise the land.) Over the recent winter months, our farmers have been out in all weathers and at all times of the day tending their flocks with a care that is almost biblical.
Some people think there is a paradox between the careful raising of an animal, which then goes to a market and ultimately the butchers. This is to misunderstand the unique relationship, which exists between the farmer, the livestock and the landscape.
Herefordshire in particular is, in many places, ideal for sheep-farming, so, if we love to see the sweeping hills and fields of Herefordshire dotted with flocks of sheep, then as consumers and cooks, we need to ask for local meat.
A good butcher can tell you where your lamb was sourced and supply you with the best cuts to suit your needs. There are many great inexpensive cuts, such as shoulder, neck and shank. They may need slower, gentler cooking to release their sweet and succulent flavours but, especially when cooked on the bone, they are delicious.
You could also give hogget and mutton a try. It has a fuller flavour than lamb and requires slower cooking but it makes a great base for many a satisfactory, old-fashioned stew and absorbs the flavours of herbs and spices exceptionally well. Try slow boiling a leg of mutton for around two hours in a big pot filled with water and a selection of root vegetables and herbs such as bay leaves and sprigs of fresh thyme before serving it with a classic parsley sauce or red currant jelly.
Belly of lamb is always a cheap option worth considering and can work really well with a Moroccan-inspired stuffing or try the recipe for goujons given to me by my friend Shaun Naen. Alternatively, take some lamb shanks and slow roast in a stock of red wine, with cannelloni beans, loads of herbs such as rosemary and garlic and add the fruity tang of orange peel. The bones add flavour to the dish and the meat should just fall away. Try this recipe as a starting point
Lamb shanks cooked with tomatoes and pearl barley
4 lamb shanks
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly diced
6 red onions peeled and chopped into chunks
6-8 tomatoes finely chopped
60g pearl barley (or beans ofpreference)
1 litre chicken stock (add some wineor cider if you fancy it)
20g plain flour
Garlic, seasoning, fresh thyme and tomato pure added to personal taste
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil forcooking
Everything is cooked together in one large flameproof-lidded casserole
1. Put the oil and the lamb shanks into the casserole and cook for around 10 minutes or until well browned. Remove and reserve
2. Add the onions, carrots, tomatoes and seasoning to the pot and cook for a further 5 minutes
3. Add the flour to the pot and cook for two minutes
4. Add the stock and the tomato pure. Bring to a simmer then add the pearl barley and the return the shanks to the pot
5. Cover with a lid and cook in a pre-heated oven at 170c (Gas Mark 3) for 2-3 hours. The longer and slower you cook them the softer and more succulent they become. Serve with mashed potatoes and some seasonal greens
Variations: Slow cooking lamb shanks or diced shoulder in this way also makes a great base for a curried dish as the flavours have time to mellow and mature. Use a medley of your favourite spices or pop a big tablespoon of madras paste into the cooking pot and cook the meat long and slow. As long as you keep the moisture levels up, 5-6 hours is possible and cooking this dish in a slow cooker works well. (Both Three Counties Gourmet and KK Ventures can supply fragrant spice mixes.)
Five a day lamb kebabs with lemon, mushrooms, tomatoes, pineapple
Lamb steak is so tender it cooks quickly, however until the summer months it can be quite expensive. But skewered on a kebab stick with a selection of your favourite fruit and vegetables makes it a more realistic option and its a way of getting children involved as they can select their own favourites. The kebabs are also great on the barbecue.
I like to marinate the chunks of lamb (15-20 minutes is fine, just time to open the wine and have a swig) in a mixture of vegetable oil, lemon juice, finely chopped fresh rosemary, and a pinch of cumin and garlic paste. Simply thread the meat, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and slices of lemon etc. onto your pre-soaked skewers and grill for around 12 minutes. Turn them while cooking, baste with some of the marinade juice and serve with an olive, tomato, cucumber and feta cheese salad. Allow around 40g of lamb per person and add different vegetables depending on your personal taste and what is in season. As my chef colleague Richard Apperley says: Recipes are a guideline and an inspiration, not a set of rules.
Foil-wrapped lamb parcels
Shortwood Farm, just outside Bromyard is a lovely place to visit to see farming in action and they also supply their lambs to the Legges of Bromyard Farm Shop.
2 large Barnsley-style lamb chops
2 medium red onions, finely sliced
2 large tomatoes, finely sliced
2 tablespoons of Auntie Naomisred currant jelly. (or similar)
10g butter mixed with finely chopped fresh rosemary
Juice of one lemon
Seasoning to personal taste and maybe a pinch of chilli
1. Cut 2 large rectangular pieces offoil, and place in a ovenproof dish
2. Spoon equal measures of the onion and tomato into the middle of each foil rectangle
3. Place the chops on top and topthese with the red currant jelly and herby butter
4. Fold up the edges of the foil tomake two sealed parcels and put into a pre-heated oven. 180c (GasMark 4). Cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the chopsand how pink you like the lamb
The melted herby butter mixes with the meat juices and makes a naturally sweet sauce balanced by the acidic lemon juice. Served with new potatoes and fresh, early season asparagus this makes a great easy to cook supper. Especially delicious when served with a ros wine from one of Herefordshires excellent wine producers. (Pop into see Paddy Shave at Hop pocket wines, Bishops Frome for a fine selection.)
Shaun Naens lamb goujons
Belly and breast of lamb maybe cheap but it offers tender meat and good flavours when cooked like this.
Marinate your piece of lamb in olive oil, rosemary, garlic and lemon juice for around an hour before cooking it in the oven at 150c (Gas Mark 2) for 2 hours. Let it cool before cutting the meat into strips. Then dip the strips into flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Deep fry in hot oil; 180c, for a few seconds or until browned and serve with tartar sauce to dip your goujons into. The sweetness of the lamb is complemented perfectly by the acid tartar sauce and the breadcrumbs add a touch of crispness. They make a great finger food or main course and go wonderfully well with a glass of Wye Valley Brewerys Butty Bach.