#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.

#290 Roast Pork with Crackling and Baked Apples


Man’s relationship with pigs goes back several thousand years. Acorn-eating wild boar were slowly tamed in European forests to become the slightly tamer proto-pig utilized by the Spanish, French and Greece. Swineherds had the unlucky job of attempting manage the unruly pigs. Modern pigs are not quite as wild as their forbearers, but do apparently revert to their feral behaviour quite readily. So beware.

Galen, the medical pioneer of the Roman era, enjoyed a bit of pork like his fellow Romans. What is odd is that he thought it tasted of human flesh. Whether this was a hunch or whether it was knowledge from experience, I do not know. He is correct though, the cannibals of the South Sea Islands, called the various explorers and pioneers they caught and ate longpigs due to their flavour.

The pig is famed for it versatility and pretty much all the animal can be used, and it is the pig that is the focal animal in Fergus Henderson’s wonderful nose-to-tail restaurant, St John in London (check out the blog here). I’ve never managed to get there unfortunately, but one day I shall! For any nose-to-tail fans out there, the ultimate delicacy must be Pliny’s personal favourite, the vulva of a sow who had aborted her first litter, according to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in her amazing book A History of Food.

This dish was cooked on my recent trip to England, where Hugh somehow managed to buy a massive shoulder of pork for £1.50. Absolute bargain. He’s a good bargain-hunter; in fact, he’s known for it! I pounced upon the opportunity to roast it the Grigson way which includes baked apples as well as a glaze to go over the crackling. I imagine a sweet glaze would go down well with Texans going by this sign I spotted at the rodeo:

It’s worth mentioning that it is best to buy the largest joint you can afford, the meat will be much more moist and tender in a large joint than a small one. This particularly applies to pork that benefits from a good blast of heat and then a slower roast on a lower hear than say, beef.

As mentioned I used shoulder here, but you can use leg or loin. If the meat has a bone in it, ask the butcher to remove it but ask to keep it. Also ask him to score the rind, every centimetre or so. You can do it yourself with a razor-blade. Make sure that the rind is nice and dry and season the joint all over. You can, leave it overnight in the brine tub, but if you do this, you won’t get the crackling. Seeing that the crackling is the best bit, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you have bones, pop them in a saucepan with a chopped carrot, a peeled onion studded with three cloves and a bouquet garni. Cover with water and allow it to simmer for three or four hours. Strain and reduce to ¾ of a pint. If there was no bone, use some pork or vegetable stock and simmer for just an hour.

Heat the oven to 220°C (425°F) and rub the skin of the joint with some oil and sprinkle with some salt. Cook for 35 minutes to the pound (1 ¼ hours to the kilo). Place in the oven and turn the temperature down after 20 minutes to 160°C (325°F). An hour before the end of the cooking time, prepare the apples. You need one per person, and use Cox’s Orange Pippins if in season. If not, use Braeburn or Mackintosh. Score a circle close to the tops of the apples, to prevent the skins bursting and nestle them around the joint. If you don’t want baked apples make an apple sauce.

Next prepare the glaze. Melt a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly in a pan and mix in a tablespoon of French mustard as well as half a tablespoon each of cream and soft brown sugar. Paint the glaze all over the crackling in the final half hour of cooking.

When ready, remove the joint from the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. While you are waiting, make the gravy. Melt an ounce of butter in a pan and when it goes a nutty brown colour, stir in a tablespoon of flour. Whisk in the stock and add any meat juices from the roasting pan.

Voila!

#290 Roast Pork with Crackling and Baked Apples. I have eaten roast pork many times, but never actually cooked, but I can honestly say that this was the best roast pork I’ve ever had from a domestic oven. It was so tender, it took no effort to slice and the glazed crackling was half crispy, half chewy and almost toffee-like. The baked apples were a revelation. An absolutely fantastic roast dinner! 9/10.

#276 Giblet Gravy

It’s such a shame that the art of gravy making has been lost. This gravy is rather posh, containing things like veal and vermouth. You don’t need to add these sorts of things every time you make it, but even basic gravy is so much more delicious than any from a packet. I know it takes more planning and time, but it’s not that difficult really – mainly a bit of simming. I haven’t used gravy granules for a good couple of years now…
I’ve been meaning to do this recipe for ages – but finding chickens with giblets these days is difficult in Britain. The reason being, apparently, that people would keep forgetting to remove the giblets in their little plastic bag from the carcass before roasting it. Idiots ruining things for the rest of us, as per usual! It is also difficult finding veal in Britain too. In America however, it is pretty common. However both chickens with giblets and veal are everywhere. So I invited my friend Danny round for a roast dinner – the first I’ve made since the move over here. I don’t know why I put it off, the heat I suppose. Roast chicken and stuffing (see the next post, when I write it!) with Yorkshire puddings (my recipe here, Grigger’s here) and mashed potatoes are as manna from the Gods as far as I’m concerned. Danny had never had Yorkshire pudding before. What is that about!?
To make the gravy you’ll need a set of turkey giblets or two sets of chicken giblets – Grigson says to not include the liver, but my Mum always used it for hers and it’s good gravy that she makes! – two quartered carrots, one halved onion, either a quarter of a pint of dry white wine or 90 mls of dry white vermouth (I went with the former), a bouquet garni (see here for a post on what should go in a bouquet garni), and eight ounces of casserole veal that has been cut into pieces. Put all these ingredients into a saucepan over a high heat. When the alcohol has boiled up and the giblets and veal has changed colour, add two tomatoes that have been halved plus enough water to just cover things. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for two hours. Strain the stock.
In another pan, melt and ounce and-a-half of butter and let it cook until it turns a golden brown – a noisette brown as it is called in the trade, a good name because it does change its aroma as well as its colour and a definite nutty smell emanates. This change happens quite quickly so don’t take your eye off it. Now stir in a level tablespoon of plain flour (you can add more if you like a thick, thick gravy). Pour over the hot stock and allow to simmer covered quietly for a further half an hour. Check the seasoning.
If you are making a chicken gravy, add the juices from the roasting pan (as I did). For turkey, pour the fat away and add a glass of Madeira wine to it. Boil it up and serve it separately from the giblet gravy.
Check out that layer of butter settling out there!
I can’t believe I had no gravy boat; how embarrassing.
#276 Giblet Gravy. This was a long time coming, and it was certainly worth the wait. Rich and satisfying with a good herby flavor from the thyme I added. The best gravy I have ever made that for sure – and definitely the most indulgent. The veal, by the way, didn’t go to waste, I fished them out and serve the chunks with the meal. Waste not, want not! Anyways, an excellent recipe – 9/10.

#122 Roast Pheasant

The Roast Pheasant was obviously the star of the meal – not just because it is a meat we don’t eat enough of, but also from my point of view because to tick it off I had to do lots of accompanying dishes, so some organisation was required. If you want to have a go, you can have as many of the elements as you wish, though try to do as many as possible as they do go so very well together as a dish. The trickiest part was getting hold of pheasant giblets – however, the nice game butcher at the Farmers’ Market got me them when I asked. Make a point of ordering them as they are routinely thrown away. So, the roast pheasant is made up of five individual parts:

1. The pheasants themselves
2. The game chips
3. The giblet gravy
4. The browned crumbs
5. The bread sauce (dealt with separately as #123).


Most of this can be made in advance and reheated, that which is not, is easy and quick to prepare and will not keep you from your guests for very long.

To prepare the brace of pheasants, begin by removing the giblets and setting them aside for later on. Stuff each bird with 2 ounces of butter, plus the liver (make sure you remove the green bitter gall bladder) and a good seasoning with salt and pepper, then lay a thin sheet of back pork fat over them that is large enough to cover the beasts and legs. Secure the back fat by tying string around the pheasants. Place them in a roasting tin and set aside for when you want to roast them – they should be roasted at 190°C for 20 minutes per pound plus an extra 10 minutes. You calculate this for the heaviest bird; in my case 2 pounds, so 50 minutes in all. For the final 10 minutes of cooking, remove the back fat and dust the breasts lightly with seasoned flour. Remove from the oven and allow to rest. I did this just before the guests arrived so that the birds could rest as the leek tarts were cooking. To serve it, I removed the legs, then sliced the breast meat and placed on a bed of watercress.

When the birds were prepared, I started on the gravy: first place the giblets (minus livers) in a saucepan along with a sliced carrot, a sliced onion and a bouquet garni and enough light beef stock to cover everything generously. This was simmered gently for two hours before being finished off later (see below). Next job was to get the game chips sorted. Game chips are basically crisps cut very thinly on a Chinese mandolin using the ridged blade to produce a lattice, or gaufrette, pattern. Peel 1 ½ pounds of firm potatoes. Put the mandolin at its thinnest setting and slice downwards, turning the potato a quarter-turn as you bring it back up to make the next slice to get the lattice effect. Put the chips into a large bowl of water to remove starch and then dry thoroughly. Deep fry in batches at 200°C until golden brown, and drain on kitchen paper and salt them well. This can be re-heated in the oven whenever you need to use them.

Once the starters had been eaten, I put the game chips in the oven and got to work on the buttered crumbs and rest of the giblet gravy. For the crumbs, 3 ounces of stale white breadcrumbs were fried gently for 5 or 10 minutes in 1 ½ ounces of butter until golden. They were placed in a serving dish and kept warm with the game chips. For the gravy, the stock with all the lovely the giblet flavours poured into the roasting tin. The stock was boiled hard and all the nice sticky bits that were found on the bottom of the pan were scraped off. When reduced, a glass of port was added, there was a quick seasoning, and the gravy was strained into a sauce boat.

So that there was a bit of green, also served some peas and green peas, but also Bread Sauce (as instructed) and (#124) Creamed Celery – Grigson says that either celery or mushrooms should be eaten with roast pheasant.

#122 Roast Pheasant – 9.5/10. What a brilliant meal! It was well worth the effort, I cannot fault it in any way really, and will definitely make it again, though maybe not with all the required elements. The pheasant was juicy and just-cooked, the gravy was beautifully rich and luscious, the breadcrumbs provided a nice crunchy texture and the game chips were tasty, some crunchy and some soggy in the gravy and bread sauce. For me, pheasant is the king of the game birds, and after this, it is going to be very difficult to knock it off the top spot.

FYI: to be a bit thrifty, I made soup from the carcasses and left over veg and trimmed celery etc and it was lovely – I’ll put a recipe up for it. I am never chucking out a carcass again!

Cheat’s onion gravy

This is one that I do if I want nice gravy but I’m not making a roast dinner, or more often, if there’s a (*sharp intake of breath!*) vegetarian. It’s very easy and probably doesn’t count as a recipe, but fuck it; it’s my blog so I can put whatever I like in it… Sorry about that outburst there. I often do this with mushrooms aswell as or instead of onions…

You will need:
Gravy granules
Vegetable stock from any boiled veg you’re having, else use boiling water
1 small onion, sliced into half rings
1 tbs sunflower, or any other flavorless, oil
spring of thyme, rosemary or other suitable herb
Pepper

What to do:

  1. Fry the onion on a medium heat in the oil along with the thyme until the onion goes dark brown – almost black – around the edges. Season with pepper – don’t add salt because gravy granules are salty enough.
  2. Make the gravy with the stock, according to the instructions on the packet, or to your own liking
  3. Add the gravy to the pan and allow to simmer for around five minutes. Add more water if it’s looking a bit on the thick side.
  4. Pour into a jug or gravy boat, if posh; or just pour straight onto roast dinner, if not posh.