price of spring lamb has
levelled out. My local family firm, Olympia Butchers (70 Blythe Road, London WI4, 0171-602 4843), was charging up to pounds 3.20 per pound during the last days of April (it's now about pounds 2.65). Then a leg of lamb from Sid and Rosie at Olympia was pounds 16; change one digit in the postcode and you were paying pounds 22.50 for a leg from Lidgate of Holland Park.
Both joints looked lovely, with each weighing in at around 5lb (2-3kg). Another difference between the two provisors is that you cannot buy Swiss vacherin cheese or chocolate mousse in the Blythe Road butchers. Mind you, Sid has fresh duck eggs and sometimes the odd goose egg, which is, to my mind, butcher butcher gear.
Although the meat itself is the thing just now, its attendant offal is also in fine nick. The liver is pale and shiny, tender and sweet, but, for me, it is the lambs' sweetbreads - pink and pearly cushions of essence of lambyness, creamy and soft, just waiting to be smothered in cream with a little wine and sherry - that really turn me on. Them's the boys, them little 'breads, spooned on to a piece of fried bread for Sunday supper. Mmmm...
You will usually find sweetbreads in Blythe Road towards the end of the week, along with honeycomb tripe and fresh chicken livers - "something nice for the weekend" (I have never seen any of these three in Holland Park). A simple way to cook them is in foaming butter, having previously seasoned and lightly dredged them through a little flour. The coating that forms on them when done like this is a real treat. And it is worth taking the trouble to cook them from raw in this instance (see the more common, and easier, poaching method in the following recipe). Try and get the rounded-looking 'breads rather than the more knobbly looking ones, as these are much easier to deal with. Peel off the gossamer-like membrane with a modicum of stress. Simply fry them in butter till cooked firm, add a tiny splash of good red wine vinegar, some parsley, and you will have a feast that would have been fit for Curnonsky himself.
I might have shocked some of you before now, with tales of my father giving me lamb's testicles for breakfast when I was a nipper. I loved them to bits. Hadn't a clue what they were, just gobbled them up and off to school, thought nothing more of it. Seriously, these are a treat. If you like sweetbreads, you will love these and, like the rest of the spring lamb offal, they are prime just now.
Finally, a word about liver. Lamb's liver can be just as enjoyable as the more luxurious stuff from the calf. Just don't cook it too fast or too much. Everyone remembers school liver, grey, tough and smelling of something nasty in the changing rooms. Today's recipe is as sweet-smelling as matron's candlelit dinner for herself and the junior house master.
Creamed lamb sweetbreads with mushrooms and tarragon, serves 2
You may want some small triangles of fried bread around the dish.
300g fresh lambs' sweetbreads, well washed and soaked in warm, salty water for 30 minutes
salt and white pepper
a little flour
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
150g button mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp white wine
2 tbsp amontillado sherry
150ml whipping cream
squeeze of lemon juice
the leaves from 2 sprigs of tarragon, chopped
Rinse the sweetbreads well and then put into a pan, cover with water, add the tiniest splash of vinegar and just bring to the boil. Drain immediately and rinse under cold water. Dry in a tea towel and then remove all traces of skin and fatty particles with a small knife and your fingers. Put aside.
Take a roomy frying-pan that you guess will take the sweetbreads in a single layer without crowding. Season the 'breads and dust with flour. Melt the butter in the frying pan until it starts to froth. Slip in the 'breads and gently fry on each side until golden. Remove and put on to a plate. Tip the shallots into the pan - if there is not enough butter left, add a little more - and cook until soft. Then add the mushrooms and cook together with shallots until both have taken on a little colour. Pour in the wine and sherry, allow to seethe, then reduce until all but a smear of liquid remains. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, then reintroduce the 'breads. Add the tarragon, bubble ever so gently for 7-10 minutes - adding a splash or two of water if the sauce is becoming too thick, or until the 'breads feel firm to the touch; too bouncy and they will need a little longer. Check for seasoning and stir in the lemon juice. I ate mine with roast potatoes, an odd combination I know, but they were absolutely fabbo. New potatoes, however, would be more conventional, and equally nice.
Roast leg of lamb with anchovies, rosemary and garlic, serves 6
This has proved to be the most popular dish (so friends say) from my first book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury Press, pounds l0.99). This is not a plug - well, of course it is really, but the real and main reason why I include it today is because it is just so damn nice. I am sure it is not an original, because all three flavours - garlic, anchovy and rosemary - are so happy being with lamb, that any old gourmet would have done it sooner or later.
1 small leg of lamb - anything between 2 and 2.3kg
2 x 50g tins of anchovies
2-3 bushy sprigs of rosemary
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced lengthways into three
75g softened butter
half a bottle of white wine
juice of 1 lemon
Pre-heat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7. Using a small, sharp knife, make about 12 incisions, fairly deep into the fleshy side of the joint. Insert a piece of garlic, half an anchovy and a small sprig of rosemary into each incision. Push all of them right inside with your little finger. Cream the butter with any of the remaining anchovies and smear it all over the surface of the meat. Grind over plenty of pepper. Place the lamb in a roasting tin and pour in the wine. Tuck in any leftover sprigs of rosemary and squeeze over the lemon juice. Roast for 20 minutes.
Turn the temperature down to 350F/180C/gas mark 4 and roast the lamb for a further 50 minutes to one hour, depending on how well done you like your meat. Baste from time to time with the winey juices. Take the meat out of the oven and place on to a suitable plate. Turn the oven off, replace the lamb inside and leave to rest for 15-20 minutes in the waning heat, with the door ajar.
Meanwhile, place the roasting tin on the heat and scrape up any gooey bits off the bottom. Whisk the mixture together and taste for seasoning, remembering there will be salty moments within the meat from the anchovies and butter. The gravy should be quite limpid yet syrupy, but to achieve a good amalgamation you may need to add a little more wine (or water) so that the fats and liquid bubble together happily. Strain this gravy into a small pan and keep on the lowest possible simmer. Carve the lamb and spoon over the gravy. Eat with new potatoes and broad beans.
Persillade of lambs liver, serves 2
This is the perfect quick supper for a hard-working couple.
250-300g nice, pale-coloured lamb's liver, cut into thickish slices
For the persillade:
a handful of flat-leafed parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
grated rind from a small lemon
2 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
a little melted butter, say 2-3 tbsp
Pre-heat an overhead radiant grill. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. When it is faintly sizzling, slip in the liver. Whatever you do, don't get the pan too hot, as fiercely fried liver is fiercely tough liver, particularly when it is lamb's. Just let it colour lightly and remove from the pan when it is still bouncy to the touch (medium rare), as it is going to take another hit of heat once the persillade is added. Put the liver on to a shallow baking tray.
Mix together all the ingredients for the persillade in a small bowl. Brush the surfaces of the liver with some of the melted butter, and then sprinkle the persillade all over it using a teaspoon, preventing, as far as poss, any of it falling off. Trickle with more of the melted butter and then place under the grill until the breadcrumbs have taken on a lovely golden crust. Eat at once, with the lemon quarters to squeeze over, sprigs of watercress and creamed potatoesReuse content