Feast day: Mark Hix cooks alternative cuts of lamb for Easter lunch

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Easter is a really good excuse to invite some friends over for lunch and get a bit of spring lamb on the go. But spring lamb doesn't exactly flood the market and unfortunately you can end up paying extortionate amounts for the prime cuts.

There are, though, lots of other cuts of lamb that I am sure your butcher will be glad to part with, apart from the prime racks, saddles and legs which are in such high demand.

So here are a few suggestions for dishes that you could serve as an alternative Easter feast – all you have to do is place them down the middle of the table and allow your guests to help themselves.

Crispy lamb salad

Serves 4-6

You can reduce the quantities of this and serve it as a starter course if you wish.

I've decided to use a selection of belly, kidney and some fillet here, but you could use sweetbreads and/or heart or liver, it's up to you.

250-300g boneless lamb breast
4 lambs' kidneys, halved and the sinew removed
2 lamb fillets
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dusting
1 small egg, beaten
30g fresh white breadcrumbs
A couple of handfuls of small salad leaves and herbs, washed and dried
1tbsp capers, rinsed

For the dressing

1tbsp sherry vinegar
4tbsp walnut or hazelnut oil
1tsp caster sugar

Put the breast in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 40 minutes to an hour or until tender; remove from the pan and leave to cool and refrigerate overnight or place in the freezer for an hour. Once cool, remove any excess fat and cut into thin, 3-4cm long strips.

Have three dishes ready: one with seasoned flour, one with beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Coat the lamb first in flour, dusting off the excess, then through the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs.

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry them for a few minutes on a highish heat, turning them as they are cooking; drain on some kitchen paper and keep warm. Discard the oil and wipe the pan, season the kidney and fillet, heat some more oil and fry them on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, keeping them pink.

To serve, whisk the sherry vinegar, walnut oil and sugar together and season. Toss the leaves and capers in the dressing and arrange on serving plates.

Slice the fillet and kidney and arrange in among the leaves with the crispy breast.

Lamb and garlic pie

Serves 6-8

4-5 sheets of wharka or filo pastry
A little melted butter for brushing
1tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
30g root ginger, peeled and grated
1tbsp ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
750g coarsely minced lamb
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250ml strong beef stock
60g raisins
70g flaked almonds

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and cumin for 2-3 minutes. Add the lamb, season and break it up with a wooden spoon and cook it on a high heat for 4-5 minutes until it has broken down and beginning to colour. Add the beef stock and raisins and simmer gently on a low heat, stirring every so often until the stock has completely reduced and just coating the meat. Add the almonds, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Brush each of the sheets of wharka pastry with butter and put them back together. Put the meat in the centre and fold the edges into the middle, overlapping to form a roundish shape. You can do this by laying the pastry in a shallow, round cake tin first, then adding the meat and folding the pastry over so it ends up rounder.

Flip the pie over on to a baking sheet, brush with butter and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden.

Serve hot, cut into wedges.

Asparagus and lamb wraps

Serves 6-8

You could serve these as canapés before lunch or dinner, or as a part of a sharing feast on plates in the middle of the table.

24 medium-sized asparagus tips about 5-6cm long
2 boneless rumps of lamb weighing about 250g each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil
2tbsp chopped fresh mint
3-4tbsp good-quality mayonnaise

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5.

Season the lamb, heat a little vegetable oil in an ovenproof frying pan and brown the lamb on all sides on a high heat and roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes, turning the lamb halfway through cooking. Remove from the pan; leave to cool. Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in boiling, salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender, then drain and refresh under cold water.

To serve, mix the mint with the mayonnaise and season. Slice the lamb as thinly as possible and wrap a slice around each asparagus, leaving the tip exposed. Arrange on a serving dish with the sauce in a pot for dipping.

Braised hearts with creamed leeks and wild garlic

Serves 4

This is based on a favourite childhood recipe of mine – my gran used to make these delicious braised hearts with a parsley and thyme breadcrumb stuffing. As I remember, much of her cooking was based around cheap, tasty cuts such as lambs' livers and beef brisket.

But her stuffed lambs' hearts used to be a weekly feature on our dinner menu, and I remember always looking forward to eating them – although I hadn't come across wild garlic at that point.

8 lambs' hearts, trimmed
Flour for dusting
Vegetable oil for frying
8 cocktail sticks
2 medium leeks
A small handful of wild garlic
200ml double cream
A good pinch of salt

For the sauce

1 medium onion, finely chopped
A good knob of butter
1tbsp plain flour
tsp tomato purée
200ml beer
400ml beef stock
1 bay leaf

For the stuffing

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
A good knob of butter
60g fresh white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. First make the sauce. Melt the butter in a pan; gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the beer, stirring to avoid lumps forming, and gradually add the beef stock. Bring to the boil, add the bay leaf and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing. Gently cook the onion and thyme in the butter for a minute to soften them, then stir in the breadcrumbs and season. Insert the point of a small knife into the cavity of the heart and remove any sinews, allowing room in the cavity for the stuffing. Force as much stuffing into the cavity as possible and secure with a cocktail stick. Season and lightly flour the hearts. Heat a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly brown the hearts, turning them so that they are evenly coloured. Put the hearts into a casserole with a lid; cook in the oven for about an hour and a half, turning every so often.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, or until tender; remove from the water; leave to cool. Once cool, cut into half-cm slices and place in a pan with the wild garlic and cream, season and simmer until the cream has reduced and is just coating the leeks. Spoon the leeks on to warmed plates, place the hearts on top and spoon over the sauce.

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