Cookery Feature - Lamb - Not Just For Easter

It’s synonymous with spring and - while I would be the first to agree that a flavoursome free range roast chicken is still one of the best dishes around -lamb has taken over from it as the favourite Easter meal in recent times.

New season Irish spring lamb is seen by many as the ultimate meaty treat and, if you’re cooking for a small number, it’s something to splash out on for a special occasion. It’s very tender and delicately flavoured but, even though the late Easter has given a few more weeks of growth this year, it is very small - and it also commands a premium price, so it’s not really a runner for a large family.

So what’s usually needed at this time of year, especially for a gathering of any size, will actually be hogget, which is a one year old lamb with plenty of meat on it and good-sized roasting joints.

Prized for its flavour and versatility, lamb suits most cooking methods and partners especially well with Middle Eastern and North African flavours as well as our traditional garlic, mint and rosemary, so cookbooks focusing on these regions are good places to look for ideas.

And lamb is not just for Easter, of course. These favourite recipes are very different, not too season-specific and great for a variety of occasions - a reminder of just how versatile lamb is - and all would be best suited to the more mature lamb (hogget), which has plenty of flavour and lots of good eating on it.


Roast Leg of Lamb with Honey Orange Glaze, Port & Mint Dressing and Boulangère Potatoes
This easy roast is perfect for Sunday lunch and would also be ideal for a family gathering over Easter. Shoulder of lamb, which is especially tender and sweet-flavoured and makes a lovely roast, could be used instead for a smaller group of about 6 people.
Serves 8-10

1 good-sized leg of lamb, trimmed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Few sprigs of rosemary
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 head of garlic
2 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste with some salt
The rind of 1 orange
2 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Glass of white wine

Port and Mint Dressing
4 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Juice of 1 orange
Dash of port
Few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven at 200°C (400°F) Gas Mark 6.

Make about 10 incisions in the lamb with a sharp knife. Push a sliver of garlic and a sprig of rosemary into each hole. Place the lamb in a roasting tray with some chopped onions and a head of garlic cut in half. Mix together the crushed garlic, orange rind, honey and olive oil. Spread the mixture over the lamb. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. Then add the glass of wine and a glass of water (this will stop the honey from burning). Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C (350°F) Gas Mark 4 and continue the cooking for another hour for pink lamb. Rest for 15 minutes before serving.

When the lamb is cooked, remove it from the roasting tray and strain the juices; keep the garlic to serve with the lamb. To the juices, add another dash of wine and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly. Boil it up to make a jus, finish with a knob of butter and taste for seasoning.

To make the dressing, gently heat the redcurrant jelly, orange juice, port and mint. Add a little lemon juice if you think it is too sweet. Serve warm with the sliced lamb.

Boulangère Potatoes are very good with the roast lamb and can be cooked in the oven at the same time. Simply layer some thinly sliced potatoes in a baking dish with thinly sliced onions which have first been sautéed in a knob of butter. Add seasoning and a few more knobs of butter as you do the layers. Finish off with some chicken stock and a sprinkling of grated cheese. Bake for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the topping is golden and crispy.

Moroccan Style Braised Lamb Shanks
This aromatic version of one of the most popular lamb dishes is ideal for a busy day as it can be left to get on with its long slow cooking while you do other things for a couple of hours – making an easy and seriously delicious meal to come back to later. The lamb can be covered in clingfilm and marinated in the fridge for up to 24 hours beforehand if you wish, to allow the spices to penetrate the meat and making a more strongly flavoured and fragrant dish. The accompanying couscous can be jazzed up with pistachio nuts and dried fruits, such as sultanas and raisins and a little chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.
Serves 4

1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp each ground coriander, cumin, cinnamon and turmeric
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
4 lamb shanks, well trimmed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2½ cm piece peeled fresh root ginger, chopped
450ml chicken or lamb stock
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp clear honey
Squeeze of lemon juice
Serve with a bowl of couscous

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3, 160ºC (325ºF).

Heat a large frying pan. Mix together the paprika, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric and one teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl. Add the lamb shanks and using your hands rub in the spices. Add a little of the olive oil to the heated pan and quickly brown off two of the spiced lamb shanks. Transfer to a casserole dish with a lid and repeat with the remaining lamb shanks.

Meanwhile, place the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor or mini blender and pulse until finely minced. Add another tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, then add the onion mixture and sauté for 3-4 minutes until well softened and coloured from the spices left in the bottom of the frying pan.

Pour a little of the stock into the pan, stirring to combine and then tip over the lamb shanks. Add the remaining stock with the tomatoes and honey, stirring gently until evenly combined. Cover with the lid and cook for 2-2½ hours until the lamb shanks are meltingly tender and the meat is ready to fall off the bone. Season to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Arrange the lamb shanks in wide-rimmed bowls with the couscous to serve.

Spiced Meatballs With Chilli Tomato Sauce

This is a handy recipe with Middle Eastern origins. If you don’t want to use passata (sieved tomatoes) simply replace with two cans of chopped tomatoes.

Serves 4

1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
450g lean minced lamb
50g pine nuts
Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

For The Chilli Tomato Sauce
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
680g jar passata (sieved tomatoes)
1 tsp sugar
Serve with plain boiled rice

Place the chopped onion in a food processor and whizz to a fine purée. Tip into a bowl with the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, parsley, lamb and pine nuts. Season and work to a paste with your hands. Roll the paste into small walnut-sized balls; you should have about 20 in total. Chill for 15 minutes to firm up if time allows.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6, 200ºC (400ºF). Toss the meatballs in the oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly golden.

Meanwhile, place the chilli, garlic, passata and sugar in a jug. Season and mix well to combine. Pour over the meatballs and bake for another 30 minutes, turning the meatballs once until the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened. Serve hot with some rice, in warmed wide-rimmed bowls.

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