It was back in November 2015 that I bought half a lamb from the rather wonderful Kenilworth Free Range. The box I collected was surprising for its weight and variety. For £70 I’ve fed over 50 generous plates of food to my family and supported some local businesses too. It wasn’t the best lamb I have ever tasted but it was certainly very good and well worth the effort. I had some wonderful milky lamb from the Chatsworth Estate some years ago and I have had some excellent chops and cutlets which owed as much to the cheffy skills exercised as the meat itself. The Kenilworth Free Range produce was certainly flavoursome (and size suggested an older carcass) and had a good layer of fat. Buying meat in this way is undoubtedly daunting (and freezer-busting) but then again it’s nice to be outside of your comfort zone and challenged. I was surprised how many people, particularly women, confessed that despite being carnivores in other ways couldn’t face a baa-lamb. I was also surprised how many people could taste a gaminess in lamb which I hadn’t previously thought about but I can see now it’s mentioned. Another observation I make as I write this is the amount of sweet ingredients I have in these recipes. The traditional mint sauce accompaniment is acidity personified but through sweetcorn, sweet potato, honey, dried fruits etc I have clearly got my own subconscious preferences.
I started with using the neck ‘joint’ in a hearty Autumn Lamb Stew. There is a surprising amount of tasty meat in the neck. We British have developed a bad habit of eating meat with a knife and fork only. I’m not sure when this changed: I can certainly remember going to curry restaurants which offered all chicken dishes on or off the bone. Certainly, picking up and gnawing is not date-worthy dining but for everyone else it’s a deeply sensual experience. The nice thing with lamb is that generally, in addition to flavoursome meat, there is a texture thing going in from the rendering down of fat into the sauce and any vegetables. On the roasted meat it’s an undeniable stickiness but in a sauce or a stew it adds unctuousness.
Next up, hot on the nape, was the offal. I guess in half a lamb you never know how the soft parts are going to be divided. I ended up with a heart, the liver and a kidney. I shared an experimental meal with my very carnivorous elder daughter cooking the bits in different ways. I have always had a moral fondness for offal. After all, if you are going to kill something to eat don’t you have a responsibility to eat all of it that tastes good? Ironically I have always been pretty poor at cooking offal and didn’t make a great job of this but the stuffed heart and devilled kidney were good.
I wanted to try the whole lamb in different ways and in my haste I forgot to defrost some of the lamb chops an so ironically I also ate some vegetarian food and the stuffed peppers were a challenging balancing act but tasted fine.
In amongst a range of cuisines I did try the lamb chops and roast joints in a more conventional Sunday lunch way. I still like mint sauce and mashed potatoes and it also gave me a chance to use the Simon Hopkinson recipe for roast lamb – piercing it with anchovies, rosemary and garlic – which is still difficult to beat. Somehow the flavour fully permeates the meat and contributes to a delicious gravy with some white wine.
The flavour of lamb lend itself to a Mediterranean and North African style and this appeared regularly along the way. The strong flavour of the lamb and the fattiness of it I think contributes with citrusy flavours and anything with a slow cooking time. The merguez marinaded roast was a bonus (although a reader did take issue with me calling it a Sunday lunch) and tagine featured twice. I like tagine and wraps as a use-up for a Sunday roast. The tagine is an easy one-pot solution with bags of flavour. The wraps can have any combination of lamb, hummus, tsatsiki, lettuce, pomegranate and tomato to make a satisfying dish. The lamb needs to have a little crunch to the rendered fat and so this dish rescued the horrendous breast of lamb. I have subsequently gleaned that I need a slow cooker to take the pain and mess out of the preparation but quite frankly I can’t be bothered.
I had some olive oil to test drive and so in the depths of winter I made a roast lamb with lentils and roast vegetables – another dish where the fat rendering in to the lentils is a great combination – whereas chicken sticks to its own part of the plate somehow lamb wants to join in everywhere.
I did venture elsewhere in the world for my Northern Chinese lamb – a very fragrant and tasty pulled lamb recipe which I will definitely do again. It’s a combination of sweetness, stickiness and deep rich flavour which just needs a background of rice. This was probably my most memorable dish from the whole exercise. Slow cooking lamb is very efficient and leaves just bones behind – nothing is wasted.
Along the way I used my baked sweet potato recipe with the chops occasionally – topped with sweetcorn and a delicious harissa mayonnaise. This is easy and a great combination. Finally I used the last of the chops served with the sensational Rajasthani sweetcorn sauce – sweet and delicately spiced.
I think I’ve had eight plates of food off each of the joints with a main and leftovers. I’ve also had four meals with chops, one with the neck, one with offal and the dreaded breast. That makes a grand total of 58 plates of food for hungry eaters from a £70 purchase which must be phenomenal value. I’ve supported a local livestock producer and the greengrocer well along the way. Most importantly I’ve had a lot of empty plates and happy faces around the dinner table.