because gluten-free food doesn't have to be rubbish

Spring lamb

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Yes, you read that correctly. This post is about Spring lamb. And no, I’m not six months early and yes, I do live in the northern hemisphere. Right now is the very best time in the whole year to eat lamb. Forget lamb at Easter, lamb in October is where it’s at. If you’re nodding in agreement with me, skip to the bottom for an amazing lamb ragu recipe that will also make your house smell divine. If you’re feeling a bit puzzled right now, stay with me.

Mid-autumn is *the* best season to eat lamb. Lamb eaten now was born in Spring, when it was warm enough to be outdoors. It first of all lived off its mother’s milk, which was lovely and rich from all the new season grass she was eating, and then moved onto fresh summer grass itself, all the while galloping around outside in the sunshine (and presumably wind and rain if it’s from Cumbria). The result is, once slaughtered at the end of the summer, the meat is rich and full of flavour from all that exercise. This is true Spring lamb and it is worthy of the highest praise.

Now let’s consider what many people erroneously term Spring lamb; that eaten in Spring, often as a special dish at Easter. Lamb slaughtered in late March or early April will have been born in the depths of winter. Cold, dark, no sunshine and more importantly no outdoors. This lamb may in fact never see the outside world. Because it’s inside all winter it will have much less space to move around and develop lots of tasty muscle, and its diet will be far inferior, consisting of artificial feed rather than fresh grass. The flavour and texture of the meat will as a result be vastly inferior to true Spring lamb. So what are you waiting for? Get ye down to the butcher now for the finest, sweetest lamb you will eat this year.

The meat I used was a whole lamb shoulder, which can provide you with hours of amusement as well as good meat. It is one of the cheapest cuts of lamb and supposedly produces “tougher” meat, but I used the leanest cuts for the lamb jalfrezi and they were as tender and lean as tenderloin. The rest I used for this and the marbling of fat was ideal for a slow braise. Getting the bones out can be a bit of a mission, especially if you don’t have a boning knife (note to self: must invest in one) but I suspect once you’ve done it once it will go much more quickly next time (here’s hoping). At any rate, this isn’t a meal to be rushed. An added bonus is you have bones left over to make a lovely rich lamb stock. If you can’t be bothered with all that faff then either get the butcher to bone the joint for you, or choose another cut, perhaps some shank (aka the lower half of the leg), which is also a good cheap cut for stewing, and slightly leaner than the shoulder.

Rich lamb ragu
Adapted, only slightly, from The Kitchn

400g lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 carrot, scraped and sliced into thin rounds
Sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1/3 bottle (250ml) red wine
400g tin chopped tomatoes

1. Prepare your lamb. In my case this consisted of a rudimentary physiology lesson, courtesy of the internet, followed by half an hour of cutting round bone and cartilage to leave me with just under a pound of gently marbled but not overly fatty shoulder meat. If you like dinner to be less of an adventure, by all means buy ready-prepared meat.

2. Heat a splash of oil in a heavy casserole dish, until it shimmers. Add the meat and brown thoroughly for 10 minutes or so. Don’t crowd the pan or the meat will steam not brown. Don’t worry if it goes quite dark brown either; brown equals taste.
3. Once the meat is all nicely browned add the onions and cook at a slightly lower heat for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic, carrot and any herbs you want to add; I chose rosemary and thyme, sage would also work well or any other aromatics you have lying around. Their flavour is quite muted in the final dish so don’t worry about them overpowering the meat. Stir this lot around for a couple of minutes until softened.
4. Pour in the wine, taking care to scrape up any browned bits of meat or onion off the bottom of the dish as you do so. Simmer this for 10 minutes until the volume has reduced roughly by half. Add the tomatoes and then season well with salt and pepper. Simmer for a final 5 minutes, taste again and then put it in the oven to cook at 140 C for 3 to 4 hours.
5. Remove from the oven after said 3 to 4 hours (depending on how tough your meat was to start with, how long you can bear to have your oven on for and how hungry you are) and carefully, using two forks, shred the meat, which will now be soft and tender. Taste again and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
6. This can either be served immediately over pasta, with some strong cheddar grated on top, or left to cool outside the fridge overnight. Once cooled, this will keep in the fridge for 3 days at least, and the flavour will build with each day.
Serves 4. Apparently this dish is ideal for freezing. I’ll come back and add a note after I’ve actually eaten the two portions I put in the freezer to let you know if this is true. Any other deep-flavoured red meat could be swapped in for the lamb too; beef or venison would be delightful I think.

Written by guffblog

8th October 2010 at 13:32

Posted in Main courses

Tagged with , , ,

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