Lamb is such a divisive meat. The vegetarians have an excuse for not liking it but the carnivores are a little confusing. Either you eat meat or you don’t – you can’t be happy to eat all slaughtered flesh except the fluffy ones. It’s difficult to say what my favourite cut is but a butcher in Leicestershire once told me that the sweetness always came from the front of the beast. For him it was always about choosing the shoulder over the leg and I’ve followed the advice ever since.
In other ways I am a bit of a philistine. I go for a boned and rolled shoulder over lamb on the bone. I know it is supposed to add flavour but I can’t be bothered with the hassle of carving. In additi0n I think lamb shows off the butcher’s art more than most meats. My favourite bit of butchery is the lamb shoulder cushion – I first saw one in a French market and thought it was the prettiest thing imaginable -this may be tempered by my utter inability to butcher and tie meat however. Lamb though is about flavour, flavour, flavour.
Until recently my favourite lamb recipe was Simon Hopkinson’s roast lamb recipe which studs the roast with garlic, rosemary and anchovy with a twist of lemon juice. You can add mint, white wine and pomegranate in virtually any combination for a tasty meal. At a recent dinner party we had Jamie Oliver’s slow cooked lamb and it was sensational. Served with red cabbage and roast veg it was a hearty winter warmer – deliciously tender with the fat all rendered. Fat is a crucial part of the flavour and maybe part of the unpopularity comes from being served flabby undercooked fat at some stage in your life. The lamb fat just keeps giving – we love to re-cook the scraps from a roast lamb joint with a brief further roast which really crisps things up – absolutely delicious in soft tortilla wraps with hummus, yoghurt and lettuce.
Tonight I cooked a couple of lamb chops with a baked sweet potato – reasonably healthy and very tasty. I’ve never baked a sweet potato before but I’m glad I tried it. I’d bought two large potatoes and followed advice to prick it several times before just cooking on the wire shelf over a baking tray. Sound advice but it did take around an hour and still needed a little nudge along in the microwave (they were large potatoes as you can see). I waited until the last ten minutes before touching the lamb chops and then fried them, seasoned, on their ends for a few minutes to get the fat browned and crispy. I gave it about three minutes on either side then let them rest in the pan while I finished the potatoes. This achieved the desired crispy fat but pink and cooked inside. Before serving I just rested them on kitchen paper to take away the excess fat and this left them beautiful to pick up and dip in the tasty sauce. I mixed two thirds low fat mayo with one third fat free yoghurt and added enough harissa to give colour and a bit of spice. Rose harissa is a marvellous ingredient to keep in the store cupboard. It is terrific added to lots of dips and to add heat and colour to Mediterranean dishes. I think I had two heaped tablespoons of mayo, one of yoghurt and a level teaspoon of rose harissa on this occasion but the harissa element is really according to taste. I stuffed the baked potatoes with this mixture and added a heap of boiled sweetcorn. It was absolutely delicious served with the chops and extra blobs of the mayo mix. Although the the overall cooking time was lengthy it’s really only about ten minutes of focus so ideal for a midweek evening meal.