Roast Lamb, from ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – Cooking the Books, week 7

Who doesn’t love a proper traditional Sunday roast? We have some beautiful lamb in the freezer at the moment, sourced from an organic farmer who we know, and this small leg of lamb deserved nothing but the very best treatment.

Meat book - cover viewI have to admit, it’s been a very long time since it occurred to me to consult a cookbook for a recipe for a roast joint of meat – I’ll look up timings occasionally, but essentially, when it comes to roast dinner, whether it’s beef or lamb, pork or poultry, I know what I like and I like what I know. So, for lamb – leg or shoulder – my roasts have been done much the same way for years now – studded with little slivers of garlic, tufted with fresh rosemary, drizzled with oil, salt and pepper, and simply roasted until just pink in the middle.

You could say, then, that this recipe for roast lamb from The River Cottage Meat Book didn’t take me far out of my comfort zone! Then again, sometimes it’s the little variations on a theme, those small additions and tweaks, that take a good meal and turn it into something simply sensational.

My small leg of lamb was about 1.5kg in weight and served four with no leftovers. In addition to the lamb, you will require –

  • Roast lamb ingredientsA tin of anchovies
  • Two decent sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Two or three nice juicy cloves of garlic
  • A couple of glasses of dry white wine
  • A spoonful of crab apple and chilli jelly (or other fruit jelly – redcurrant would be a great alternative)
  • Your choice of accompaniments – I served this with roast potatoes, mixed roast vegetables (sweet potato, parsnip and carrot – other great options include swede, pumpkin or squash, and beetroot, if you have them), and steamed winter greens
  • Salt and pepper

Garlic rosemary and anchoviesUsing a sharp paring knife, open up a pocket around the bone, as deeply as you can. In a pestle and mortar mash up a couple of the anchovies with a clove of garlic and some of your rosemary, chopped roughly, and stuff this into the pocket you have made, to help infuse flavour from the inside of the joint.

Lamb prepared for ovenTake four or five anchovies and cut them into quarters. Slice the garlic cloves into quite thick slices, and break up the rosemary into individual ‘tufts’ of leaves. Using the sharp paring knife, make stab incisions into the lamb and stuff a piece of anchovy, a slice of garlic and a tuft of rosemary into each one. Drizzle over some of the oil from the anchovy can and sprinkle over a little salt and pepper.

That’s the lamb all prepared. Slide it into a very hot oven (about 230C) for an initial half hour.

While the lamb is starting to sizzle, prepare your roast potatoes & roast vegetables.  These can go in when you turn the oven down to 160C after half an hour – or wait a while before putting them in, if it’s a big joint. When you turn the oven down, pour a glass of white wine over your lamb. Your timings will depend on the size of your joint and how pink you like your lamb – my small joint needed about another hour. I’m a big fan of my meat thermometer, just remember the centre of the joint will keep heating up while you rest your joint, which you should do, and allow at least 20 minutes resting before you even think about carving it.

Take the lamb out to restAbout 10 minutes before the joint is ready, pour a glass of water into the roasting tin. This will start to loosen the baked on meat juices from the bottom of the tray. When the meat comes out to rest, check how your roast potatoes and vegetables are coming along and adjust the oven temperature accordingly.

Carved lamb returned to gravyMake the gravy directly in the roasting tin on the hob (assuming your roasting tray will survive this treatment!). Pour off any excess fat, then mix in a little bit of flour if you like your gravy thickened, releasing all the lovely tasty ‘bits’ from the bottom of the pan as you go. Pour in a splash more wine, and stir in a spoonful of fruit jelly – I used the crab apple and chilli jelly I had in the fridge – and season with salt and pepper to taste. Carve the lamb thickly and return it to the roasting tray, mixing with all the lovely juices before serving with all the trimmings. I just adore a dollop of vinegary sweet apple and mint jelly with roast lamb.

Perfect roast lamb?

This is a great *great* roast lamb recipe. It’s the addition of the anchovies, and the lovely rich winey gravy, which set it head and shoulders above my previous efforts. As it happens, I’ve just rediscovered anchovies, and a couple of tins have taken up residence in my store cupboard for the first time in years. Used here, they add a luscious salty-savouriness to the lamb without any noticeable fishiness, so don’t be afraid of them! The gravy is simply fabulous, with the addition of the fruit jelly really balancing and melding the flavours.

I can only recommend that next time you’re roasting a leg or shoulder of lamb, you do it this way. I know I will!

Meat book - inner page viewThe River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Hodder and Stoughton, 2004.
ISBN 978-0-340-826355.
Hardcover, 544 pages. RRP £25.

[Full disclosure: This is my book, which I bought. I have received no payment or sponsorship for this post, nor have I accepted a review copy. I do not have an amazon affiliate account and do not profit from any links provided.]

I bought this book in hardback, when it first came out almost a decade ago, and it has not disappointed, becoming one of the old-faithfuls of my cookbook collection. Not simply a recipe collection, this book contains lots of information about different meats and livestock, cuts, and preparation techniques, and deserves a place on the shelf of every committed carnivore!

Fearnley-Whittingstall is a particular champion of cheaper and less fashionable cuts of meat, and a great advocate for ethical meat-eating. The Meat book, then, is a great source of information on animal welfare and farming – and in these respects, inevitably, doesn’t always make easy reading – but also a very useful resource if you’re trying to eat well on a budget without compromising on flavour or on your principles. Unless you’re a committed vegetarian, I recommend you add this book to your wish-list if you don’t own it already!

‘Cooking the Books’ is my self-imposed blog challenge for 2014 – I’ll be trying to cook a new recipe from one of my (rather extensive!) collection of cookbooks once a week, write it up and review it. Wish me luck!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>


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