#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy

This is a recipe I have been waiting over a decade to make, but patience is a virtue and I have finally been able to cook it; after years of searching farmers’ markets and emailing farmers’ websites, I finally found someone who farms primitive sheep breeds. Here’s what happened.

If you don’t follow the other blog, you might not realise that I have been making a podcast about Lent and for the final episode, I wanted to cook some lamb as it would be in keeping with the Lenten theme. So, I got it into my head that it had to be from a primitive breed of sheep. After a surprisingly short internet search and some inquiring emails, I found Helen Arthan, a farmer of rare breed sheep and cattle, and she kindly agreed to take part in the podcast, so off I went to her beautiful farm in the Cheshire countryside.

There are several primitive breeds of sheep still being farmed, and Helen kept one of the oldest – Hebridean sheep – which descend from Viking stocks. Rather than tell you about these beautiful and characterful animals here, I am going to send you in the direction of the podcast episode to hear about it yourself instead; so here it is.

There are two recipes that use primitive lamb in English Food, there’s this one where it is roasted and served with a simple gravy and the other is the same but served with a blueberry sauce. I had my heart set on the latter, but then thought I should cook it plain and simple the first time, so I could really appreciate the flavour of the meat. Luckily for me, Helen gave me two legs, so I shall be posting the other recipe soon. It’s just like buses isn’t it? You wait ten years for primitive lamb legs and then two come along at once.

I cooked up the hogget for my friends Kate and Pete who both helped me out in the first two episodes of the podcast and are long-time Grigson blog supporters. It seemed only right I should make it for them.

In Jane’s recipe, she roasts two lamb legs together because they are rather small. However, Helen gave me hogget – a slightly older and therefore larger animal – which is similar in weight to a regular lamb leg. In fact, one stocky hogget leg weighed more than Jane said two lamb legs would weigh.

I’m going to give two methods for cooking the meat: the lamb version that Jane gives for roasting two small lamb gigots (legs) weighing a total of 6 or 7 pounds, and another that I use for one large leg that is more typical in size, like you would get from a regular butcher.

Before you start, set the oven to 230°C and prepare the leg or legs – this stage is the same for either method.  Take a clove of garlic for each leg, peel and slice as thinly as possible. Then, using a small pointed knife, stab the legs, placing a slice of garlic in each one. If garlic isn’t your thing, you could just sit a sprig of rosemary on it. There’s nothing stopping you doing both of course.

Rub in plenty of coarse sea salt and black pepper, sit the leg or legs on a trivet sat inside a roasting pan. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before roasting.

If cooking two small legs: place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove the lamb legs and check they are done by inserting a skewer or a temperature probe. The temperature should feel warm, around 55°C. Allow the meat to rest.

If cooking one larger hogget (or regular lamb) leg: weigh it before placing in the oven and calculate the cooking time. 12 minutes per pound/450 grams is what you want if you want rare meat, and 14 minutes per pound/450 grams if you want just pink, medium meat. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160°C for the remainder of the cooking time. Remove the meat and allow to rest.

To make the gravy: skim off the fat from the pan juices; you don’t have to be too fastidious. Put the pan over a hob and scatter two teaspoons of plain flour or cornflour and stir in using a wooden spoon or small whisk, making sure you get the crusty bits from the bottom. You don’t have to add the flour if you prefer a thin gravy. Pour in a glass of wine – either red or white wine go well with lamb. If using red add half a pint of lamb (or beef) stock, if using white add the same amount of chicken stock. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes before straining into a gravy jug.

Serve the lamb with #306 Mint Sauce or #422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly, says Jane. I decided on the former (because her recipe is excellent) as well as some roast potatoes, roast parsnips and some purple sprouting broccoli. For more guidance as to what is traditionally served with roast lamb, follow this link.

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy. This was sublime…the meat was so tender and well-flavoured, though not strong in lamby flavour as one might expect. The meat was so tender and was delicately flavoured from the garlic. I’m very glad I decided to cook it with just a gravy made from its own juices and some stock – I really got to appreciate the hogget without any blueberry distraction. As per usual when a dish is this good and I’m with friends, I completely forget to take decent photographs! I will make sure I do when I make the blueberry version. I cannot recommend highly enough, if you ever see some, buy it. 10/10.

4.3: Shellfish – Completed!

I have now completed the Shellfish section of the Fish chapter of English Food. I should have completed it ages ago but I really dragged out the last two recipes: I was too lazy to make the choux pastry and hollandaise sauce required, both being kitchen nemeses of mine. As it turned out, they were both pretty straight-forward and there were no real disasters.

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad

The section contained thirteen recipes and contained recipes for oysters, mussels, crabs, lobsters, prawns, brown shrimp and scallops, there was also a recipe that explained how to boil live shellfish. This may not seem very comprehensive, but there are many other recipes in the book that use shellfish, #200 Steak, Kidney & Oyster Pudding and #235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels being just two examples. That said, I do notice some very English shellfish have been overlooked altogether: not a single recipe using cockles, whelks, winkles or razor shells (“spoots”). I suspect she didn’t like them.

A freshly-boiled lobster

The potential issue for me was getting hold of oysters in abundance as they crop up a lot in the book. They are expensive so they really hit you in the wallet, plus they always come in the shell so they are also a potential hit to your fingers and hands when trying to shuck them. Luckily for me, I lived in the USA for a couple of years (2010-2012) where it was fairly standard to be able to buy tubs of pre-shucked oysters at a fraction of the UK price. Where you found oysters, you usually found live lobsters too, meaning I could try my hand at boiling them live – a stressful experience.

#392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce

I also learned a few new skills: shucking and boiling I’ve already mentioned, but I also had to extract the brown and white meat from crabs, something that takes a little practise, but I reckon I’m pretty good at it now.

Jane loved fish and wrote a very big book of fish recipes and it seems she is a fan of almost everything fishy. She describes mussels as ‘a luxurious bargain’ and particularly liked scallops (four of the thirteen recipes are scallop based), complaining about how many of them went straight to Spain. In fact, she was depressed with the apathy we hold as a country towards shellfish in general. Remember though, that English Food came out in the 1970s, with revisions in the 1980s and 1990s, and I believe a lot had changed since then. There are some great fishmongers near to me, and whilst they may not have big tanks of live lobster, they certainly have a great selection. That said, they are unfortunately not the norm on every high street.

The chapter scored well with a mean score of 7.54/10 making it the third most popular so far. There was only one recipe that scored top marks – #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab, which ended up as the fish course in my first pop-up restaurant back in the day. The sublime #281 Scallops with White Wine & Jerusalem Artichokes narrowly missed out, scoring 9.5/10.

A demolished #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab

The good average was helped by the fact that there were no bad recipes, just a couple of mediocre ones: there was the bizarre #189 Mussel & Leek Rolypoly (one I should revisit as I don’t think I had the skills or the palate to appreciate it properly at the time) and #392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce, an odd dish I don’t think I interpreted very well.

As usual when I sum up  a section scroll down to find links to all of the recipes in the Shellfish section of the book with their scores. As mentioned, there were thirteen recipes and the section scored a mean of 7.54/10. For those who like their data, the median and mode were 7.5/10. If you cooked one of the recipes in the past, or have cooked one in the past, please let me know in the comments section below.

#271 How to Boil Crabs, Lobsters, Prawns and Shrimps 8.5/10

#268 Potted Shrimps 7.5/10

#378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab 10/10

#140 Crab Tart 7/10

#192 Elizabeth David’s Prawn Paste 7.5/10

#91 Spicy Prawns 7/10

#435 Shellfish Puffs 8.5/10

#189 Mussel and Leek Rolypoly 4.5/10

#132 Oyster Loaves 7.5/10

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad 7.5/10

#392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce 4.5/10

#281 Scallops with White Wine and Jerusalem Artichokes 9.5/10

#421 Scallops with Cheese Sauce 8/10

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad

Hello folks, sorry for being away for so long; I really did not mean to be absent all this time. I shall be posting a little more regularly over the next few months – I promise!

This is the last of five scallop dishes and the final recipe in the Shellfish section of the book. The recipe comes from Irish chef Michael Ryan, who at the time of writing the book in the 1970s, was head chef at Arbetus Lodge, Cork, Ireland. Ryan was head chef there right up to the 1990s. He is still going strong as head chef at renowned restaurant The Provenance in Victoria, Australia.

Chef Michael Ryan (traveller.com)

I don’t know why I’ve left this recipe so long because it’s very quick and simple to make: just grilled scallops and a simple sauce. It puts excellent use to the delicious corals of the scallops too – a part so often discarded – by flavouring the hollandaise sauce with them.

For four people, you will need eight scallops. Remove their corals and cut away any sinewy parts, then slice the scallops as thinly as you can so that you end up with lots of discs.

Mix two tablespoons of olive oil with a teaspoon each of white wine and white wine vinegar. Season very well with salt and pepper and brush over four scallop shells; try to get the flat side of the shells, but don’t worry if you can only get hold of the curved side. If you can’t find any shells, you can brush a circle of the oil mixture over a small heatproof plate.

Arrange the discs in overlapping circles, not unlike the potato slices on the top of a Lancashire Hotpot. I had some of the oil mixture left so I brushed the top of the scallops with it. Set aside (or pop in the fridge for later). Turn your grill to its maximum setting and when very hot, slip the scallops underneath and cook for just two or three minutes – just time for them to go a little opaque.

As you wait for the grill to heat, make the sauce: have ready a quarter of a pint of hollandaise sauce (Jane’s method for making it can be found on this post here) and push the corals through a sieve into it. If making a hollandaise sauce seems a little daunting, you can buy it in jars these days. Stir the corals through and that is it! Very simple.

Arrange some salad leaves – I used rocket – on four serving dishes, place the scallops on top, and spoon the sauce into little ramekins. Eat immediately.

#437 Michael Ryan’s Warm Scallop Salad. In enjoyed this very much. Very simple to make and very few ingredients, ensuring the sweetness of the shellfish comes through first and foremost. Including the usually maligned corals in the hollandaise sauce is a genius idea – it looks so appetising and tastes surprisingly fresh and sweet for a butter sauce. The only changes I would make would be with the presentation: I would partially cover the scallops with the hollandaise and grill it again briefly. A very good dish though. 8/10

The Layout of the Book

For those of you unfamiliar with the book English Food by Jane Grigson, I thought I’d put up a little post about the layout of the book.

My copy is a third edition published in 1992. Jane passed away during the edit of this final version, leaving her daughter Sophie – an acclaimed food writer in her own right – to complete it. The first edition was published in 1974.

The book has a total of 450 recipes and as I write this, the last recipe to be cooked was #436 Worcestershire Pear Soufflé, which means that I have only 14 recipes to go. Scroll down and you’ll find a breakdown of the book.

The 450 recipes are split into eight chapters and some of those are split further into sub-chapters, sometimes by me, sometimes by Jane. As you’llsee, most of the chapters have been completed now. Click on the hyperlinks to see all the recipes and chapter reviews for different sections of the book. There is a phenomenal amount of ground covered, so please have a good nosey. You’ll notice how my writing gets worse as you scroll down the lists and travel backwards in time!

Jane and Sophie Grigson (photo Martyn Goddard/REX)

There are very few low-hanging fruits left with most of the remaining recipes either too expensive or morally dubious to cook. There are recipes for endangered elvers and at-risk ptarmigan for example, as well as a massive pie filled with a mortgage’s worth of game meat. Some have ingredients are simply too hard to get hold of because no one eats them anymore such as cold-smoked chickens and freshwater roach.

If you don’t own the book, I have written versions of the recipes along with little introductions about the history of the dishes, or the ingredients. What I haven’t done is simply copy out sections of the book, I have written most things in my own words, so if you don’t know about Jane and her beautiful writing, please purchase a copy – it is still in print and published by Penguin Books.

Hopefully the blog will inspire you to cook some of the classic and often unusual recipes contained within, but most of all I hope it will inspire you to find out more about Jane.

Chapter 1: Soups – 24 recipes – completed!

Chapter 2: Egg & Cheese Dishes – 24 recipes – completed!

Chapter 3: Vegetables – 39 recipes – completed!

Chapter 4: Fish – 61 recipes
4.1: Saltwater Fish – 16 recipes
4.2: Freshwater Fish – 13 recipes
4.3: Shellfish – 13 recipes
4.4: Cured Fish – 19 recipes

Chapter 5: Meat, Poultry & Game – 119 recipes
5.1: Beef & Veal – 16 recipes – completed!
5.2: Lamb & Mutton – 16 recipes
5.3: Pork – 8 recipes – completed!
5.4: Cured Meat – 17 recipes
5.5: Poultry – 18 recipes
5.6: Game – 23 recipes
5.7: Meat Pies & Puddings – 21 recipes

Chapter 6: Puddings – 66 recipes – completed!

Chapter 7: Teatime – 72 recipes – completed!
7.1: Bread – 15 recipes – completed!
7.2: Cakes & Tarts – 35 recipe s– completed!
7.3: Griddle Cakes & Pancakes – 13 recipes – completed!
7.4: Biscuits – 9 recipes – completed!

Chapter 8: Stuffings, Sauces and Preserves – 45 recipes – completed!
8.1 Stuffings – 5 recipes – completed!
8.2 Sauces – 19 recipes – completed!
8.3 Preserves & Random Things – 21 recipes – completed!