Hogget - In Season

West Ireland SheepGeorgina Campbell

Although Easter is just around the corner (and early this year) March is only the beginning of spring and it can be a very chilly month, when comfort food that makes the most of the remaining autumn and winter ingredients can be very welcome.

St Patrick’s Day is the big event on the culinary calendar of course, and it’s no coincidence that the foods traditionally associated with the festival, like boiled bacon and Irish stew, make the most of hearty country fare.

Hogget is not a word that’s heard very much these days, but it should be. It refers to lamb from the previous season, between a year and eighteen months old - not yet mutton, but a good sized animal, with plenty of well flavoured meat on it. In the days when wool was highly valued, it was the age at which the very best quality fleece was produced.

Hogget is available from in the spring and early summer for a short season, until the new season's lamb takes over. While new season lamb is seen as a special treat for the Easter table, hogget is a much better buy and has far more flavour.

It makes a decent sized family roast and is ideal for Irish Stew in all its many variations. Try it, for example, in the recipe below, from Mary Gleeson at Gleeson’s Townhouse & Restaurant in Roscommon. It’s a dish that Gleesons has become famous for - in National Geographic’s recent ‘Top 10 Ireland and Northern Ireland: Food and Drink’, this simple lamb stew was singled out as the one to try in Ireland, cooked in “fresh thyme and rosemary-flavoured broth with onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes.”

Perhaps they were led to it by Colman Andrews, who had enthused about this dish in his widely acclaimed book ‘The Country Cooking of Ireland’ (2009): “I’ve eaten Irish Stew in private homes and public eating places, North and South, probably twenty five or thirty examples in all and no two have been alike. The most purely delicious example I remember came from Gleeson’s Townhouse & Restaurant in Roscommon though I suspect its appeal came not from any secret ingredients or from any magical cooking technique but from the flavors inherent in the raw materials that went into it…”

I think he is right about the secret of it unique appeal - this is such a simple recipe that it can only be the quality and local flavours of the prime ingredients that make it special.

Gleeson’s Townhouse Roscommon Lamb StewRECIPE Gleeson’s Townhouse Roscommon Lamb Stew

1 kg lean stewing lamb, cut up
3 large carrots, sliced
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 large onion, diced
8 medium peeled potatoes
1 litre chicken stock
fresh rosemary & thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.

1. Put the lamb into a cooking pot and cover with water.

2. Place vegetables in a separate pot and cover with stock and herbs.

3. Cook lamb gently until tender.

4. Cook the vegetables until three quarters cooked.

5. Strain half of the liquid from the lamb and combine with the vegetables.

6. Cook out fully and season to taste.

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