#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.