Having lamb for Easter? Here’s how to cook it

In season: spring lamb three ways

Roast leg of lamb: an Easter tradition

Roast leg of lamb: an Easter tradition

 

Easter food is all about roast lamb, or chocolate eggs, depending on your preferences. Many of us look forward to welcoming the spring holiday with the distinctive aroma of a simple roast leg, perhaps studded with slivers of garlic and spikes of fresh rosemary, though to my taste garlic is too assertive for spring lamb.

Ancient tradition aside, whether we should be eating Irish lamb this early in the year is a bit of a moot point. In his Irish Times column, chef JP McMahon wrote: “Spring lamb truly comes into its own in terms of flavour and size around August. By October, the lambs (still under a year old) have matured and grown from eating our beautiful grass, gorse and heather.” For lots of us though, it is an Easter staple.

Homemade fresh chimichurri sauce
Homemade fresh chimichurri sauce

To cut through lamb’s richness (read: it can be a bit fatty), McMahon suggests serving it with chimichurri, a sauce of Argentinian origin (although a good astringent mint sauce will do the same job, and Jess Murphy has a recipe for you in tomorrow’s Magazine).

To make chimichurri, McMahon says: “Blend a handful of parsley with a little fresh oregano, 1 clove of garlic, 1 chopped shallot and a teaspoon of chilli flakes in a food processor. Add 50ml of olive oil, some sea salt, the juice of half a lemon and a dash of apple cider vinegar.”

At the recently-opened Lady Anne restaurant at Creamery House in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, chef Keith Boyle (previously of The Bay Tree Bistro in Waterford) has opted for hogget (an older lamb, up to a year old) over spring lamb for his launch menu. “It has far more flavour than spring lamb,” he says, chiming with McMahon.

For one of just three main courses on his debut menu in the 24-seat restaurant, Boyle brines lamb fillets in a locally brewed pale ale before cooking it, and serves the meat with accompaniments of potato, swede, asparagus and black garlic.

A more simple, and unfailingly delicious, way to treat your leg of lamb next weekend is to give it the Greek treatment. Put in in a roasting tray, squeeze the juice of two big lemons and a very generous glug of good olive oil over it, and sprinkle it with more dried oregano than you think you need (a big heaped tablespoon).

Whack it in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, then add some peeled and halved potatoes (waxy variety if possible) and a cup of water to the roasting tray. Season with sea salt and pepper, cover with tinfoil and put the whole lot back in a medium oven for around two hours, turning the potatoes in the lemony juices once.

With Easter falling late this year, will it be time to get the barbecue out?
With Easter falling late this year, will it be time to get the barbecue out?

If the weather obliges – and Easter is later than usual this year – you might like to get the barbecue out to cook Donal Skehan’s lamb shoulder with orange harissa sauce (equally doable in a normal oven).

For a big Easter get-together, Domini Kemp’s lamb shawarma would fit the bill. You could think of serving it pulled apart with a fork and stuffed into warm pittas, with a crunchy salad and perhaps a spoonful of hummus.

Carmel Somers’s recipe for roast lamb accommodates both leg and shoulder cuts, and is served with an unusual aubergine and Cheddar cheese béchamel sauce – bound to be a conversation starter.

DONAL SKEHAN’S LAMB SHOULDER WITH ORANGE HARISSA SAUCE

Ingredients
Serves 6
1.5kg boneless shoulder of lamb
3 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
3 rosemary sprigs, leaves finely chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper
For the orange harissa:
5 tbsp harissa paste
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely grated
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp lemon juice
For the charred greens:
10 spring onions, trimmed and chopped in half
2 radicchio, sliced in quarters
4 endives, trimmed and sliced in half
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
 

Method

1. Whisk together the ingredients for the orange harissa sauce and set aside.

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2. Heat a barbecue to a high heat.

3.Using a small sharp knife poke holes all over the flesh of the lamb. Add 3 tbsp of the orange harissa paste to the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper – whisk until combined. Massage the lamb with the marinade and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or covered in the fridge overnight.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a generous seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Add the radicchio, endives and spring onions and toss to coat.

5. When the barbecue has come up to a high heat add the vegetables and cook until charred on all sides. Remove to a plate and keep the veg in a warm place.

6. Add the lamb to the centre of the grill and cook on both sides for 3-4 minutes until it has good colour, before lowering the temperature, covering with a lid and cooking for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is cooked to your liking. Turn the meat halfway through the cooking time. Shield with tin foil if the lamb takes on too much colour.

7. When the lamb is cooked, transfer to a chopping board with deep grooves to catch the juices, cover with tin foil and allow to rest for at least five minutes.

8. Slice the lamb thinly and serve with charred vegetables and a generous drizzle of the orange harissa paste and the resting juices.

LAMB SHAWARMA

Ingredients
Serves 6
8 cloves garlic, peeled
4 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tbsp ras el hanout spice mix
4 red onions, cut into half-inch slices
1 shoulder of lamb or lamb on the bone, 2kg
Salt and pepper

Method

1. In a food processor, blitz the garlic, chopped onion and spice together to form a sludgy paste, then season well.

2. Cover the bottom of a roasting tin with the sliced red onion and place the lamb on top. Season it really well. Smear the joint with the sloppy onion spice mixture, then fill the roasting dish with water to halfway.

3. Roast for 60 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius /gas 5 to get some colour going, before basting the joint, covering it with tinfoil and returning it to the oven for another three to five hours at 170 degrees/gas 3, until the meat is falling off the bone.

4. Keep topping up the water if it is drying out. It should be meltingly tender towards the end of the cooking time, by which time you can let the water evaporate. You will be left with a sludgy onion mix, which is quite tasty. Let the meat rest for 30 minutes before eating.

OTTOMAN BAKED LAMB WITH AUBERGINE BECHAMEL

Ingredients
Serves 6
300ml natural yogurt
4 tbsp tomato puree
Half cup red wine
Quarter cup olive oil
6 big garlic cloves, crushed
2 dry bay leaves, crushed
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
About 3kg shoulder of lamb or leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and main bones removed

For the aubergine bechamel:
1.5kg aubergines
50g butter
50g flour
Salt
400ml milk, boiling
50g Cheddar, grated

Method

This dish works as well with a shoulder of lamb as it does with a leg. But they require slightly different methods. You’ll find both below.

1. Whichever cut you’re using, start this the night before by marinating the lamb. In a large stainless-steel bowl beat the yogurt with the tomato puree. Continue beating as you dribble in the olive oil and wine. Mix in the garlic, bay, thyme, salt and pepper. Make deep incisions all over the lamb and then put it in the marinade, rubbing the marinade all over the meat. Cover and turn occasionally.

2. For lamb shoulder: The next day heat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Take the lamb out of the marinade (keep any excess for later) and place in a roasting tin. Cover with parchment or foil and bake for two hours. Take the meat out of the oven, then pour the juices into the reserved marinade and keep for later. Remove the cover and put the meat directly on the oven rack, with the tin on the shelf beneath, to catch the dripping juices, and cook for another 45 minutes.

3. For leg of lamb: Heat the oven to 225 degrees Celsius. Place the lamb on a roasting tray (do not cover) and roast for 40 minutes. Then remove the meat from the tray and put it directly on the oven rack, turning it the other way around. Place the tray underneath, to catch the dripping juices, and cook for another 15 minutes.

4. Remove whichever lamb cut you’re using from the oven and allow it to stand in a warm place for 20 minutes before carving.

5. In the meantime, pour a cup of water into the roasting tray and put over a medium heat to clean the pan. Add this liquid to the reserved juices and marinade and reduce the lot in a small saucepan until you are happy with the flavour.

6. For the aubergine bechamel: Roast the whole aubergines in a very hot oven until they are soft and charred all over. When cooled, peel under running water and squeeze well, to get out as much liquid as you can. Mash the aubergines with a fork or in a food processor.

7. Next melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and a pinch of salt, and cook together for a minute, until the flour is pale and sandy. Then pour in the boiling milk, all at once, and whisk until the sauce is smooth and thick. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring well. Stir in the aubergine puree and allow to heat through, then stir in the cheese. When it has melted, taste and add more salt if needed.

8. Carve the meat into thick slices and arrange on a serving platter on top of the aubergine bechamel, and pour the reduced roasting juices over.

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