#404 Lamb (or Mutton) to Eat as Venison

All the way back in November, I was asked to cater for a dinner party; a very special one because it had the most interesting brief. A seven-course dinner was required where each course represented a different time in history.

For the Georgian course, I went straight to my favourite book from that time period The Experienced Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald (1769). Flicking through the pages, I happened upon a recipe To dress a Leg of Mutton to eat like Venison. It required you to ‘[g]et the largest and fattest leg of mutton you can get cut out like a haunch of venison as soon as it is killed, whilst it is still warm.’ It then goes on to tell you to ‘remove the bloody vein’ and then marinade the thing in wine, dry it, and to roast it in pastry. I was intrigued, but it was obviously unachievable. Looking in other books, I found many versions of it, sometimes roasted, sometimes braised, but always marinated in red wine (and often in the blood of the beast too!). I knew the recipe looked familiar, and it finally dawned on me that a recipe for it appeared in good old English Food by good old Jane Grigson.

There’s a 4 day marinating time for this recipe, so plan ahead if you fancy making it – and I really suggest you do; see my review of the recipe below.

Start off by making the marinade: dice up 5 ounces each of onion, carrot and celery, chop 3 cloves of garlicand brown them in a couple of tablespoons of oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed. Take your time over this and get them good and brown; the veg won’t be in the final dish, but its flavour will be. Let it cool.



Now mix the cooled, browned vegetables with the following:

1 bay leaf
2 good sprigs of thyme
4 sprigs of parsley
2 sprigs of rosemary
8 crushed juniper berries
8 crushed coriander seeds
10 crushed black peppercorns
3 tsp salt
1 (UK) pint red or dry white wine, or dry cider

¼ (UK) pint of red or white wine vinegar(and, though not on the ingredients list, cider vinegar, if going down the cider route)


Now tackle the meat. Use a full leg of lamb or mutton, I went for the latter. It was huge, so I increased all the above values by a half. All you need to do it score the fat into a diamond pattern, like you would do for a ham. Find a large, deep dish or pot and place the lamb inside and pour over the marinade. Make sure the whole leg gets the marinade on it, so turn it over a few times. Keep the leg somewhere cool – a fridge, or a nice cool cellar or pantry – and cover it with foil. Turn it twice a day for four days.

When the four days is up, get a new set of vegetables ready. Slice 2 onions, 2 carrots, 2 leeks and chop 2 sticks of celery. Also chop up 8 ounces of unsmoked (‘green’) streaky bacon. Brown all of these in a couple of ounces of butter


Spread the vegetables over the base of a deep roasting tin, place the leg on top and strain the marinade over it. Top up the marinade liquid with veal stock so that it comes up two-thirds of the way up the tin. You don’t actually need to use veal stock; chicken stock or water would do, I am sure. However, if you want to make your own, look here for my recipe for it from the other blog). Cover with more foil.



You have two choices now: either bring the whole thing slowly to boil and simmer gently for 2 hours on the hob, or bring to simmer and pop it in a cool oven instead, 150⁰C will do it. If you are using mutton, you need to cook the leg for another hour or even 90 minutes. Turn the joint over after one hour and in the final thirty minutes, ladle out 2 pints of the cooking liquid and boil it down hard to make a concentrated, richly flavoured stock.

When the cooking time is up, remove the leg and put it into another roasting tin and turn the oven up to 220⁰C. Roast for a good 20 minutes and baste well with the concentrated stock to achieve a nice glaze.



Jane suggests serving with gravy made with the pan juices and reduce stock and the usual lamb/mutton accoutrements. See here for a post all about that. I actually served it with a ‘Lenten Pie’, from Raffald’s book. At some point I will blog each course on the other blog.

Jane points out that you do this recipe with a leg or pork and magically transform it into wild boar.

#404 Lamb (or Mutton) to Eat as Venison. Oh my goodness, this may simply be the single most delicious thing I have ever cooked! First of all, it tasted exactly like venison; beautifully gamey, but with the moist succulence you would expect from lamb or mutton. It was transformed! There must be some kind of witchcraft afoot. I was amazed, and luckily so were my diners! I cannot recommend this more highly, absolutely bloody brilliant. 10/10.

#400 Crown Roast of Lamb

Well, well, well. Here we are at #400! Who would have thought I’d get this far?

I’ve chosen this classic piece of meat sculpture for this milestone as it is such a special thing, and hardly seen these days. Plus, doing it Jane’s way means you don’t simply pop to the butcher’s shop and ask for the roast assembled and oven-ready. No, Jane’s way means constructing it yourself; something I really could not have done at the beginning of this project. This saves you a lot of money, and earns you plenty of kudos with your friends.

I did a quick look through some old books and it is odd that this classic and ancient and slightly macabre dish does not seem to appear before the 20th Century. I must be wrong here – can anyone shed any light on it?

To make your own rack of lamb, you will need three things: your lamb, stuffing and a trussing needle & thread.

First, the stuffing: go for any of the stuffing recipes in the Stuffings section of thelast chapter, or go with the stuffing recipe from #175 Shoulder of Lamb with Rice and Apricot Stuffing. I chose the latter.

Ok, now the tricky bit. Go to your butcher and ask for a whole best end of neck; it is from this that you will get your two, perfectly symmetrical, racks. You should get 7-8 cutlets from each rack. Here’s what you ask the butcher to do (in Jane’s own words):

  1. to divide in two down backbone so you have two symmetrical pieces,
  2. to chine it [this means to remove the backbone],
  3. to make small cuts between the cutlet bones [this is quite simple to do yourself].

The butcher will desperately try to chop off the long bones and you must insist he does not! At home, you can get the racks prepped by French trimming the thin ends; scraping away the fat from the ribs, just like#305 Guard of Honour. It’s quite laborious at first, but you’ll soon get the knack.

Sit the two racks back-to-back with the fatty sides touching. Take your trussing needle and sew the ends together with two stiches, making sure the thread is tied good and tight.

Stand it up and shape it into a crown using your fist – this is where those little cuts the butcher made are important.  Cover the ends with foil and sit the whole thing on a rack in a foil-lined roasting pan. Season the meat (especially the fat) and fill the centre with your chosen stuffing.

Roast for 75 minutes  at 190⁰C. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let the meat rest for 20 minutes or so. If you want to be posh remove the foil from the ribs and replace with paper ruffles.

But what to serve with roast lamb? Don’t fear, Grigson has it all covered for us in this post.

#400 Crown Roast of Lamb. What a spectacle this was! I loved the way it looked; not all nice and neat with each rib the same length, but instead the bones were their natural varied lengths, making it look even  more like a real crown. The stuffing was, of course, great and the meat itself wonderfully tender and medium rare. A surprising thing bearing in mind it had been a roasting for what seemed like a long time. The only minor thing is that the stuffing began to char, so I would recommend covering it with some foil for the first half of the roasting. Nevertheless, still marvellous. 10/10.


#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread

A second post involving the Welsh speciality laverbread; a deep green gelatinous sauce made from well-stewed seaweed known locally as laver (see the previous post). I still had some left over for this recipe which I made for my friend Charlotte – a veteran of my cooking, poor woman – as it was her birthday and luckily she requested lamb.

This is a recipe that I couldn’t do when I was in America because what you don’t want are nice pre-butchered racks, but a whole best end of neck. This is the upper part of the back and ribs that sequesters the beautifully tender lamb cutlets. If you can, wait until the lamb are a little older; these muscles don’t do much work so they don’t have as much flavour as, say, leg. Older animals have worked a bit longer so there is some make up in the flavour department. Also, they’re much bigger so you get more meat in your best end of neck.

Anyways, ask the butcher for one best end of neck, then ask him (or her) to split it down the centre, removing the backbone. Take the meat home, including the bones that he removed and you paid for!

Now prepare the lamb ready for roasting by cutting away any fat and meat from the ribs, don’t go too far down – maybe and inch and a half at the wider end and an inch at the thin end.


You should end up with two racks that can be propped up against each other with bones interlacing like fingers. Now take a clove of garlic and slice it thinly. Make holes down the fatty sides of the racks with a very sharp pointy knife and slot a sliver of garlic in each one. Season the lamb all over and put it in a roasting tin so that the ribs criss-cross.


Cover the exposed bones with a piece of foil so that they do not burn. Roast the lamb for 45 minutes at 220C (425F) for pink lamb, going up to 60 minutes for well-done (though cooking it well done would be a travesty in my humble opinion).

Next, make the gravy by first making a lamb stock from the bones and trimmings (this bit can be done well in advance). Add them to a saucepan with a carrot and a tomato both roughly chopped, a pint of beef stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and let it tick away for a couple of hours or more if you can. Pass through a sieve and cool. Remove the floating fat and return to the pan with a glass of white wine or vermouth. Reduce until you get a well-flavoured stock. Lastly, slake a tablespoon of cornflour with a little cold water and stir into the stock to produce a nice gravy.

When the lamb is ready, take it out of the oven and cover with foil and let it rest whilst you make the laverbread sauce. Melt 3 ounces of butter in a saucepan and add a pound of laverbread. When hot, stir I the juice of 1 lemonand 2 oranges. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the lamb in the centre of a serving dish, pouring any juices in the gravy. Pour the sauce around the edges of the lamb and then decorate with thinly sliced oranges.

#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread. Well the meat (which I cooked pink) was absolutely delicious, tender and well-flavoured. I wasn’t sure about the laverbread at first – it not being cut by the bland oatmeal like in the previous recipe – but I soon got used to it. The taste is very strong, but when eaten with the lamb you can see why they are eaten together so often. The gravy too was excellent; mild and not in the slightest bit greasy as lamb gravy can so often be. 9/10

 

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce

My-oh-my! Where do I start with this one!? It is quite possible the most infamous recipe in the whole book. I must say it didn’t seem as daunting as it did when I first spotted it after I had decided to cook the whole book.
Lamb’s head was once rather popular – in particular during the nineteenth century. According to Grigson, Queen Victoria’s chef was a fan. Why has it that in the last few decades it has just simply disappeared from our food culture? It did hang on in Northern England and Scotland and it was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite meals and she emphasises that it is not “ungenteel…or even savage food”.
Still Life with Sheep’s Head
by Francisco de Goya (c.1808-12)

Mrs Beeton gives a recipe for leek soup that requires a sheep’s head and also describes how to “dress a sheep’s head” with a very similar recipe to Jane’s, though the barley is replaced with oats (as it is in the Scottish fashion). And if lamb’s head with brain sauce makes your stomach turn, I found a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper for lamb’s head and purtenances, which, to you and I, are the innards. Calf’s head was also very popular; it was the main ingredient in mock turtle soup, for example. So the heads of sheep, calf and, of course, wild boar have been enjoyed for centuries in pretty well-to-do houses, so they can’t be that bad, can they..?

If you are thinking of cooking this receipt, first of all you need to find somewhere that’ll sell you a lamb’s head. I managed to get hold of one opportunistically at Global Foods in St Louis. There they were, just piled up in the freezer aisle. It is very important that you find an organic or halal butcher, then you can be sure that the animal was fed only what lambs should. The prion that causes scrapie is a concern with lamb that comes from the high-intensive farms, or at least it was. You also need to find some guests willing to eat it. Three brave souls – Anna, Vincent and Michelle – came to certainly the most unusual Sunday dinner I’ve ever had…

“Ask the butcher to clean and split the head…” starts Jane with this one. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a butcher on hand so I had to do this myself with a meat cleaver and a hammer. It took a fair few whacks and cracks before it split, but I got there in the end. I felt a little like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Carefully remove the brain and keep it one side, whilst you soak the head in salted water for an hour before rinsing it and placing it in a pot.
Pour enough water to cover and bring to the boil slowly, skimming any grey scum that rises as you go. Now add the following: a bouquet garni that includes a good sprig of winter savory (which was the most difficult ingredient to find!); an onion studded with 3 cloves; 2 carrots and a parsnip, both peeled and halved, a small peeled turnip, a trimmed and cleaned leek, 8 ounces of pearl barley and a good seasoning of salt and pepper – at least a tablespoon of salt is required I would say. Let the broth tick away slowly on a bare simmer for 1 ½ hours.

Whilst the broth bubbles, prepare the brain ready for the sauce. Begin by carefully removing the loose membranous net of blood vessels and placing the brain in salted water for 30 minutes. Remove it from its brine onto a square of muslin and tie it up. Place the brain in with the head and let it poach for 10 minutes. The brain will now be cooked and become firm, unwrap it and chop the brain.
It is quite homogenous with no gristly bits, so don’t worry. Now make a simple béchamel sauce by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan. When it bubbles, stir in an ounce of flour and cook for two minutes before gradually whisking in ¼ pint of milk. Thin the sauce to an appropriate consistency with some lamb stock from the pot and let it simmer for at least 10 minutes, adding more stock if it gets too thick. Stir in the chopped brain and some parsley if you wish. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the head is cooked, remove it from the pot and start having a good rummage around to find the meaty bits. I couldn’t find very much to be honest. There were two cheeks containing some good moist meat and the tongue of course. Apart from that, it was slim pickings. I thought perhaps there might be some edible palate as I knew ox palate was popular in the eighteenth century. The only other place I found some was at the base where head meets neck. Anyway, serve up what meat you can extract on a plate or bowl and surround with some of the barley along with some rolled grilled rashers of bacon and some lemon quarters and pour the sauce into a sauceboat.

The stock makes “a marvellous soup”. If you want to be in the true peasant style, serve it as the starter. Jane recommends saving it for another meal; “[l]amb soup, then lamb’s head, is too much of a good thing.” I have five tubs of it in my freezer…

#333 Lamb’s Head and Barley, with Brain Sauce. Making this is in no way as macabre as you might expect, except for the part with the cleaver and hammer that is. There was very little meat, but what there was tasted delicious and was very tender and the barley broth was hearty. The brain sauce was also good – the brain itself was tender with a certain firmness that was quite appealing and had a very mild kidney or liver flavour. I think it could have done with a touch of Cayenne pepper. So overall, not bad at all, though the amount of meat was disappointing. The soup left over is delicious but needs a touch of sugar, as lamb and mutton broths often do… 6.5/10.

#305 Guard of Honour

For the meaty part of the dinner party I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I thought I would attempt a Guard of Honour. For those of you not in the know, a Guard of Honour is an attractive way of presenting roast rack of lamb by taking two racks and sitting them upon a roasting tray so the rib bones ‘bristle like a military row of crossed stakes’. The Guard can then be stuffed if you like. Jane likes, as this recipe includes the herb stuffing that I have made a few times now.

I did a little research on this dish, assuming it would be a very old one, but was surprised to find that I could only find relatively contemporary recipes, with none cropping up even in the nineteenth century. Odd.

Griggers recommends buying a whole best end of neck of lamb and to ask the butcher to split it in two down the backbone and to get it chined between each rib so that you can carve the joint easily later. To chine is to cut the backbone. If this wasn’t done, you’d have some thick bits of bone to wrestle with. Ask him to leave on the long bones of the ribs. This part is a rather difficult thing to achieve in America for a couple of reasons. First, the joint called a best end of neck means nothing and second, lamb is generally imported from New Zealand and pre-butchered, at least in part. It’s quite easy though to get hold of a couple of matching racks and to simply not have the extra-long bones.

To make a Guard of Honour, take your two racks of lamb and scrape the skin and fat from the very thin part of the chops to expose the bones, then score the fat on the chops and rub in salt, pepper and rosemary or thyme into it (I went with thyme). Stand the joints up and allow the ribs to cross over each other. Fix them in place with skewers. The cavity within can then be filled with herb stuffing. I found the easiest way to do this was to turn the joint upside down, opening it up, so that the most stuffing possible could be added. (Thanks for taking the photos, Joan!)

Turn it the right way up and press the sides together gently, scraping away any escaped bit of stuffing. Check the security of your skewers and place on a roasting tin.

Roast in a preheated oven for 1 ½ hours at 190°C (375°F). Note that this means that the meat will be well-done.

The meat can be carved, after a period of resting, nice and neatly, giving two chops per person.

Serve your roast lamb with any of the trimmings Jane suggests here. She does mention that the stuffed tomatoes recipe goes very well with Guard of Honour, but I wanted to do other things…

#305 Guard of Honour. I really liked this. I did make it because I was in the mood for lamb. Usually I like my lamb pink, but the delicious herb stuffing helped to keep the well-done meat moist and flavourful. I must admit it wasn’t quite as impressive as it should have been because I couldn’t give the precise instructions to the butcher in the preparation of the joint. I think I shall do some of the more tricky lamb recipes back in Blighty. This is only a little complaint of course and the recipe was very good indeed. 8.5/10

#299 Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Crab


For the 300th recipe I got a few people round to mine for a little dinner party. Number 300 would hopefully be impressive and I wanted to do something for #299 that would be impressive too and this recipe certainly sounded the part. I also wanted something that dated in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, again to match receipt 300.

A recipe for a leg of lamb stuffed with ‘a forcemeat containing the meat of a crab or lobster … [with] a little grated lemon peel, and nutmeg‘, appeared in The London Art of Cookery by John Farley (1811), so it has a decent history, though this kind of food has very much fallen out favour in England. However, one particular chef gave it a breath of new life in the 1970s. A chap called Guy Mouilleron came up with the recipe that appears in English Food and therefore here in the blog, after some French chefs who were working in London were having a right good-old laugh at the English’s eating habits. “Fancy” one of them said “they even eat lamb with crab!” Chef Mouilleron thought it sounded like a good idea and conjured up a recipe. It’s funny that every British (and Irish!) person I’ve spoken to about this recipe has thought it just a bizarre as those French chefs.

There’s no need to be freaked by this combination though, says Jane, meat was often ‘piqued’ with fish all the time to give it extra flavour; the idea is not to impart a fishy flavour though, but a mysterious deliciousness. This is true as I already knew after one the great recipes from the blog – steak, kidney and oyster pudding. Meats are also cooked with anchovies a lot too, especially lamb and that cornerstone of English cuisine, the Melton Mowbray pork pie. It seems these things are being lost because of the Englishman’s squeamishness of all things fishy in general.

It is strange to me that Americans – or, at least, Houstonians – don’t really eat that much lamb and getting hold of a full, large leg of lamb with the bone in isn’t really possible in Houston’s otherwise comprehensive supermarket meat sections. However, I did manage to get hold of one very easily from the very good Pete’s Fine Meats on Richmond Avenue.

Pete’s Fine Meats, Houston TX

The recipe also calls for crab meat of course. You can boil your own (see here for instructions) or buy one preboiled. Do not, says Griggers, buy frozen meat as it had lost most of its flavour. However, here in America, where folks like seafood, it is very easy to get hold of freshly picked crab meat in supermarkets, so if you are in the USA, there is no need for you to sit and spend thirty minutes picking the meat from a crab’s carapace. God bless America for making the recipe a little easier for yours truly.

If you fancy the idea of this combination, here’s how to make it:

Start off by tunnel-boning a large leg of lamb. This is not that difficult to do – I followed the instructions here and it took just five or ten minutes to do. Use the bones to make half a pint of lamb stock (see here for recipe). Season the inside and outside of your leg.

Next, make the stuffing. You need eight to ten ounces of crab meat; either buy it fresh if you can or get hold of a crab weighing around one-and-a-half pounds. To the crab meat, mix in half a teaspoon of curry powder, a tablespoon of fresh mint and three egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity with the crab and sew up the lamb at both ends with a stout needle and some thick thread. All this can be done in advance, of course.
Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Chop equal amounts of onions and carrots, enough to cover the bottom of a roasting tin, as well as a large celery stick. Season well and place the lamb on top. Cover with a double layer of foil (if you have a self-basting tin, you can use that instead) and roast in the oven for two hours. Take the roasting tin out of the oven and place the lamb on another tin and put back in the oven to crisp up.
For the accompanying sauce, put the tin with the vegetables on the hob and bring to a simmer, cooking for five minutes. Now add the lamb stock and half a pint of dry white wine. Make sure you scrape off any of the burnt bits from the surface of the roasting tin. They are the best bits. Strain the sauce into a saucepan, skim away any fat and then stir in a quarter of a pint of double cream and a teaspoon of curry powder.
Place the meat on a large serving dish (don’t forget to take out its stitches!) and surround it by buttered noodles and pour the sauce into a sauce boat. Griggers didn’t say what vegetables to serve with it, so I served green beans, my own personal favourite lamb accompaniment.
#299 Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Crab. Well I wanted something that looked impressive and it this definitely looked the part. The meat was very good as was the minty and fresh tasting stuffing, though the sauce was a little bland. It wasn’t bad or anything, it just didn’t pack the punch that I expected it to. If I were to cook it again, I would simmer that sauce right so it became concentrated before adding the cream and curry powder. My expectations were also raised because the lamb section of the book has been so very good thus far. That said, roast lamb can never be bad in my opinion, so I give it a 7/10.

#243 Spiced Welsh Mutton ‘Ham’

Well hello there! No I haven’t died on you or anything. I’ve just been uber-busy with my thesis writing and hardly had time to do any Grigson-related cookery. Here’s is one that I actually did a couple of weeks ago but haven’t been able to tell you about.

The cured meats from the book have all been pretty successful and this one sounded nice and easy, plus would keep me in butties for the foreseeable future. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out because we don’t really cure lamb to make ‘ham’ do we? Unless I’ve been missing something all these years.

Anyway, here’s how to make to your spiced lamb ‘ham’:

First of all select your leg of lamb or mutton – you need one that weights about 6 pounds. Place it in a large pot or tub that has a well-fitting lid and rub it all over in a spiced salt mixture for curing. To make the spiced salt, mix together 4 ounces of dark brown sugar, 8 ounces of sea salt, ½ ounces of saltpetre, an ounce each of crushed black peppercorns and allspice berries, plus a heaped teaspoon of coriander seeds. Make sure you rub it in well, ensuring you get down between meat and bone. Keep it in the tub in a cool place and turn it over every day, rubbing in the juices and spices for 14 days.

Then, rinse any excess spices away from the surface of the leg and place in a large pot and cover with water. Bing slowly to a simmer and cook as gently as possible with the lid on for 3 ½ hours. Let the lamb cool in the water for a couple of hours, remove it and, wrap it in clingfilm or greaseproof paper and let it finish cooling under a weight. It keeps in the fridge for ages as long it is wrapped up or kept in Tupperware. Griggers says that if you have a smokehouse nearby that will let you put the cured but uncooked leg in, then do so! I haven’t, so I didn’t!


#243 Spiced Welsh Mutton ‘Ham’. This was a revelation! I do not know why we don’t cure mutton and lamb anymore. Absolutely delicious. The lamb meat was succulent and flaky just like corned beef and the spices cut through the richness of the fat. Best cured meat so far. 8.5/10