Rite of spring: Mark Hix creates a feast for Easter with these old-fashioned cuts of lamb

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I've been cooking a lot of mutton over the winter months – so it makes a refreshing change when tender new-season lamb starts to reappear on the shelves. It's sometimes hard at this time of year to know whether you're buying new or old meat. One of the best indications can be the price – prime cuts of lamb sell for ridiculous prices around now. But as usual, I'm recommending avoiding the common cuts that everyone else buys. A shoulder of new-season lamb, for example, will give you flavour which is equal to that of a leg; and neck fillets are almost as tender as the best end.

These days there is also some great lamb on the market from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where the sheep feed on salt marsh and seaweed instead of grass – the resulting flavour is amazingly luxurious, as well as being high in iodine and rich in omega-3. If you'd like to try it, visit orkneyrose.com.

Lamb's heart sandwich with rocket and wild garlic mayonnaise

Serves 4

My grandmother often used to braise lamb's hearts and they were a real treat, simply stuffed with breadcrumbs, thyme and onions. For years I was under the impression that hearts needed braising, but in fact once the sinew has been removed they can be treated like any other piece of tender meat.

I've had rocket growing in my garden throughout the winter and the leaves are really peppery now. My tub of wild garlic that I lifted from the woods has also recently popped up again, so I thought a wild garlic mayonnaise would fit the bill nicely.

4-5tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
A handful of wild garlic leaves, washed
4 lamb's hearts, halved, trimmed of any fat and sinew
1tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful or so of rocket leaves, washed
8 slices of bread
Softened butter

Bring a small pan of salted water to the boil and cook the wild garlic leaves for 10 seconds, then drain, refresh under the cold tap briefly, squeeze out excess water and finely chop. Mix with the mayonnaise and season. Cut the hearts horizontally into about cm slices, season and brush with a little oil. Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan and cook the hearts on a high heat for about a minute on each side, keeping them pink. To serve, butter the bread, lay the rocket leaves and hearts on and spoon over the mayonnaise. You can serve these as an open or closed sandwich.

Grilled lamb chump chop with cucumber and mint

Serves 4

Cooking cucumbers is not common, but they take on a new identity in this dish.

4 chump chops weighing about 250g each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for brushing
2 cucumbers
2 large shallots, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
2tbsp extra-virgin rapeseed oil
A handful of mint leaves

Halve the cucumbers lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut them on the angle into rough 1–2cm-thick slices. Pre-heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan. Season the chops, brush with the oil and cook for about 5 minutes or so on each side, keeping them pink. Meanwhile heat a frying pan with the rapeseed oil, season and sauté the shallots and cucumber for 2-4 minutes on a fairly high heat until tender, then remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Serve either with the chop on the plate or separately.

Neck of lamb with pearl-barley cakes and mustard sauce

Serves 4

Neck of lamb is usually used for braising, but with spring lamb it's like a prime cut. Ask your butcher to take the fillets off the bone and chop the bones into small pieces which you can use for the sauce.

4 lamb neck fillets, weighing about 150g each
A little vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce

The bones from the lamb chopped into small pieces

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
A little vegetable oil for frying
tbsp flour
tsp tomato purée
a glass of red wine
500ml beef stock
A couple of sprigs of rosemary
1tbsp grain mustard

For the pearl-barley cake

1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
A couple of good knobs of butter
60g pearl barley, soaked in cold water for 2 hours then drained
About 750ml chicken stock
50g mature cheddar, grated
2tbsp plain flour
2 small eggs beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs

To make the sauce, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the lamb bones and onion on a high heat for a few minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with the flour and stir well then add the tomato purée and gradually stir in the red wine and stock. Add the rosemary, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour or so. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and simmer until the sauce has thickened then whisk in the mustard and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile gently cook the onion, garlic and thyme in the butter for 2-3 minutes then add the pearl barley and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the chicken stock in about four batches, season and cook on a very low heat, stirring every so often until the pearl barley is soft and tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese, taste, and season more if necessary and leave to cool. Once cool, mould into 4 flat cakes about 8-9cm wide, with the help of a spatula or palette knife.

Have 3 dishes ready, one for the flour, one for the egg and the third for the breadcrumbs. Carefully coat the cakes in the flour, shaking off any excess then dip in the beaten eggs and finally in the breadcrumbs, pushing the crumbs well into the cakes with your hands. Re-shape if necessary and flatten a little and refrigerate until required.

Next, heat some vegetable oil in a non-stick or heavy frying pan and cook the pearl-barley cakes for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding some butter when you turn them over, then keep warm in a low oven. While the pearl-barley cakes are cooking, season the lamb neck fillets, heat the vegetable oil on a ribbed griddle plate or heavy frying pan and cook on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink; then leave to rest for a few minutes. Cut the lamb into 4 or 5 slices and lay on the pearl-barley cakes then heat the sauce and pour around.

Slow roast shoulder of lamb with okra

Serves 4-6

A lamb shoulder has lots of flavour when it is slow-roasted. It's easier to carve without the bone, so get your butcher to take it out. I've been a big fan of okra ever since I first tried the fresh version in an Indian restaurant; you can buy them in most supermarkets and Asian shops; give them a wash and they're ready to go.

1 new-season shoulder of lamb, boned
1 bulb of new-season garlic, chopped
2tsp cumin seeds
2tsp ground cumin
60g butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
tbsp grated root ginger
2tbsp olive oil
300g small okra, washed and dried
230g can of chopped tomatoes
2tbsp chopped coriander

Pre-heat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4.

Mix the garlic, cumin seeds and ground cumin with the softened butter, rub all over the lamb; season. Fold the lamb in half; tie with string. Heat a frying pan and brown the lamb on both sides, transfer to an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 1 hours, basting every so often.

Meanwhile gently cook the onion and ginger in a tablespoon of the olive oil, add the tomatoes, season and simmer for 15 minutes. Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the okra for 3-4 minutes, turning them every so often. Then add to the tomatoes with the coriander and simmer for a couple of minutes and re-season if necessary.

To serve, remove the string from the lamb and cut into thick slices and serve with the okra on the plate or separately.

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