Ben’s meat newsletter: New season spring lamb

We’ve all got so used to everything being available all the time that we forget that, outside the world of vegetables, there is little more than traces of seasonality in most of the meat we eat. Exceptions exist, in the case of Christmas turkeys and geese for example, but these are market driven. Bernard Matthews and his marketing team failed in their efforts to de-seasonalise turkeys and we, as a consumer group kept turkey as a once a year treat. I’m no expert on the breeding cycle of the turkey but I suspect that hatching turkey eggs in July and August isn’t the way it happened when their ancestors were flapping around the trees in North America pre-Christopher Columbus, but I still put it down as a rare victory against the big marketing machine. So while they are not breeding in their natural season, it’s seasonal for us. Other than that, excluding wild game, traces of seasonality are hard to find – with the exception of lamb; British lamb is available throughout the year but its flavour and texture evolve with age, so the seasonality is down to us and how we cook it.

Ignoring Poll Dorset sheep, which lamb perfectly naturally in late autumn, our relatively early January/February born lambs are coming through thick and fast now. They’re never going to be ready for Easter so we tend to phase them in slowly as the last of the late lambs from last year run out. This year, given the cold weather, a bit of more robust old season lamb seems like a plus rather than a minus and our farmers go to great lengths to ensure continuous supply. In return, we need to take the last of the crop in order not to leave them in the lurch, so it’s a rather slow transition.

New season lamb will always be paler, slightly milky in colour and tender to the extreme. Classical/cordon-bleu style chefs love it because, like veal, it provides a backdrop for all manner of fancy sauces, meaning the de-rigueur slow roast with Moroccan spices isn’t a good idea. Do the rosemary and garlic trick if you like, but what it’s really crying out for is fast and simple cooking with something just a tad sharp to cut through the richness.

I think I’m right in saying that Italian salsa verde originated as a partner for slightly gelatinous poached and boiled meats and it works equally well with the mellow fattiness of new season spring lamb. Recipes abound and can be adjusted according to the partner. If lamb is the game, Brexit minded outers will probably favour mint over basil, or more pervasive tarragon, and I agree.

Ben’s Salsa Verde
Makes 1 jar, prep 20 mins, cook 0 mins

Foodie aficionados swear by the pestle and mortar but by chopping everything beforehand and judicious pulsing, I find you can get a good result in a small food processor. Alternatively, cut everything a bit finer and mix it in a bowl. It keeps well in a sealed jar so doubling up is a good idea.

small shallot, finely chopped & soaked in 2 tbsp red wine vinegar for an hour
50g each of parsley & mint, leaves stripped & chopped
4 anchovies, rinsed if salted then chopped & crushed with the back of a fork
2 tbsp salted capers, rinsed & roughly chopped
120-150ml extra virgin olive oil

Quickly pulse the herbs, anchovies and capers in a small food processor, to a coarse paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the shallot with the vinegar and oil. Season to taste and store in a glass jar. Dollop onto your cooked lamb and enjoy with veg and spuds of your choice.

Ben Watson

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