Roast Lamb – The Basics
What kind of sheep farmer’s wife would I be if I didn’t know how to make a decent lamb roast? And what kind of strange blogging-type person would I be if I didn’t share all my tips with the world?
I know for a lot of people the thought of making roast joints just seems way too labour intensive or complicated, or gross dealing with raw meat… Bla. Bla. Bla. Get those thoughts out of your head, and be brave! I promise it’s actually quite simple. A little TLC in the beginning then you just let your oven do the work.
Here are some interesting points about lamb to get us in the mood…
– Nearly all lamb and mutton is free range. Whether you’re in South Africa, New Zealand or the UK, most farmers rear their sheep outdoors on natural grazing. So for a reliably outdoor-reared, grass-fed meat option, lamb is always a good choice. If you can find organic, even better!
– The term lamb doesn’t actually refer to the tiny little bouncy cotton wool babies, but rather an adult of between 1 – 2 years old. So they have lived a good life, and there’s less stigma surrounding “lamb” than veal, as more often than not they are adult sheep. So technically most cuts of “lamb” should actually be referred to as mutton, as most of the “lamb” we find available in supermarkets and butchers are often anywhere between 2 – 4 years of age. Perhaps someone once thought “lamb” sounded more appetizing than “sheep”… I don’t really mind, as long as it’s lived a happy, healthy life!
Personally I prefer the bone-in cuts, like the shoulder or leg. The bone gives it great flavour, but with both cuts they need to be cooked loooow and sloooow.
My favorite is the shoulder, for some reason it just has great flavour. It probably has something to do with that little bit more natural fat it carries compared to the leg. The leg of course is still a popular choice, and great for feeding a crowd, but generally takes longer to cook. So if I’m feeding four people, or my more regular case, a hungry husband that tends to have a bottomless pit as far as food is concerned. Then I stick with a shoulder.
Try and support your local butcher. They may be slightly more expensive than your supermarket, but chances are their meat is sourced more locally therefore having a lower carbon footprint, and will be fresher than what you find on supermarket shelves.
Don’t be put off by large streaks of fat in the cut you buy. In fact it’s that fat that will make all the difference to the flavour and moistness of your meat, so choose a cut that is well marbled.
Start out with the meat at room temperature.
In a large, heavy-based frying pan on a high heat in some olive oil and butter, seal the meat so that it colours up nicely on both sides. Once the meat is sealed season generously with salt and pepper.
In the roasting tray tuck in some fresh or dried rosemary stems underneath the shoulder along with some halved onions, a few potatoes and 2-3 garlic cloves.
Then pour in a cup of lamb stock.
Place the shoulder in the centre of the tray on top of the herbs, with the other ingredients scattered around the sides.
Pour over about 2 Tbl worcestershire sauce over the top of your lamb.
Don’t forget to deglaze the pan that you initially fried the shoulder in. Ideally with a tablespoon of red wine. But if you’re like me and find that you’ve run out of wine living a million miles from the nearest shop then water will do. Then pour that over the lamb as well.
Cover the whole dish in tin foil – Nighty night!
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for the first hour, then turn it down to 160C for a further 2 – 3 hours.
Roasting time does depend on the size of your cut, but the general rule for shoulders is that the large central bone should come out of the meat effortlessly. That’s always the best indication that it’s done perfectly.
This is just the bare basic foundation for roasting a lamb shoulder. You can certainly pimp up your ingredients by using different herbs (mint, marjorim, parsley, thyme, oreganum etc). Spices (cumin, fennel seed, black pepper, chilli powder, mustard etc). Some red wine… White wine… Go wild and experiment!