Cookery Feature - Mountain Lamb for Autumn Treats

While lamb is an all-year product, it’s generally associated with spring – especially Easter. But there’s a completely different and more characterful variety that comes into season later in the year: mountain lamb.

It is a smaller, leaner animal, with more muscle and the distinctive flavour of the heathers and mountain herbs it has been reared on. Produced naturally in the wild and likely to be organic by definition, it comes from the hills and mountains of rugged areas in the West of Ireland, like Mayo, Connemara (famous for their Blackface Mountain Sheep), Kerry and the Comeragh Mountains in County Waterford - and is one of Ireland's most interesting speciality foods.

The lambing season is later in mountainous areas, so this special meat follows on from the larger lowland lamb, coming onto the market during the late summer and autumn, usually from August or September until November or December. The delicious meat is increasingly appreciated by a discerning market, both domestic and international, and with growing recognition - Connemara Hill Lamb has the European PGI/Protected Geographical Indication status, for example.

Mountain lamb has the potential to transform the prospects for hill farmers, for whom this gourmet product should command a premium price – and better still, for both producer and consumer, is when added-value comes into the equation.

You can find these unique foods online and from butchers such as McGeough’s of Connemara, Calvey’s of Achill and Jerry Kennedy in DingleSpeciality retailers, such as Waterford’s Ardkeen Quality Food Store are also stockists, and mountain lamb is available in some supermarkets too, eg Dunnes Stores Simply Better range.

Although the premium prices deter many, some chefs love nothing better than to promote such a unique seasonal local product and in recent years, until the pandemic caused a temporary halt, Cork's Market Lane restaurant group had gained a well-earned USP for being the only restaurants in Ireland to celebrate the arrival of prized Blasket Island Lamb each autumn. This year it’s back again at all of the group’s restaurants (Market Lane, Elbow Lane, ORSO, and Castle Restaurant Blackrock) where executive chef Stephen Kehoe’s specially created Blasket Lamb dishes will be served for two weeks from mid-October. He says it is ‘arguably the most delicious lamb in the country‘ and that’s s down to the habitat on the small Blasket island of Beginish, where the lambs born in summer graze in a sea-sprayed marshy meadow which gives the lamb its highly valued pré-salé flavour. With no forced fattening, the lamb is leaner, ‘creating a near-perfect fat to meat ratio’ says award-winning Dingle Butcher, Jerry Kennedy (pictured above), who looks after the lamb when it comes off the island. "This is the perfect example of produce that is not only free-range, but contains no additives, colourants or preservatives and is vaccination free."


Leg of Lamb Roasted with Mustard and Rosemary
Serve with roast potatoes and some simple seasonal vegetables and
you will have a memorable meal for family and friends.

1 leg of lamb, well trimmed

2 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 cm root ginger, peeled and grated (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan (430°F), Gas Mark 7.

Weigh the meat and allow 20 minutes per 450g/lb cooking time, plus an extra 20 minutes, for it to be cooked medium.

Place the lamb in a roasting tin. Mix the mustard, soy sauce, garlic, rosemary and grated ginger together and then gradually stir in the olive oil to make a paste. Spread this mixture over the lamb.

Put into the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C/170ºC fan (350°F) Gas Mark 4 for the remaining time. Remove from the oven, wrap the lamb loosely in foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with gravy made with the thickened juices and vegetable stock; seasonal vegetables; and potatoes and red onions roasted alongside the lamb – peel and quarter some potatoes and red onions and mix with a little olive oil, bay leaves and seasoning, then cook with the lamb for the last 50 minutes.

Grilled Mountain Lamb in a Salad
A simple treat for 2-3 people.

1 rack of lamb, or six fillet lamb ’steaks’
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs
Salt and black pepper
Mixed salad leaves or seasonal vegetables

To prepare the lamb if using a rack, remove the fillet/eye of the meat from the bone and trim off all the fat. Discard the fat, but keep the bones and trimmings and make stock for lamb gravy. Cut the lamb fillet into six small steaks. Place in a shallow dish. Mix the oil, garlic, herbs and seasoning together. Spoon half this mixture over the lamb. Heat the griddle pan or grill until very hot. Cook the lamb steaks according to your preference.

To serve: Mix the salad leaves or lightly cooked vegetables with remaining oil and herb mixture. Place on the serving plates with the lamb steaks and serve with the cooking juices or a little lamb gravy.

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