#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce

Here’s the second of the two recipes in English Food that uses primitive lamb. Regular followers will know that I acquired two legs of Hebridean hogget earlier this year. A hogget is a sheep that’s too old to be lamb, but not yet considered mutton. It was wonderful to go to the farm and chat with Helen, the farmer who works so hard to keep this rare and primitive breed alive and kicking. Here’s a link to my interview with her that made up the last episode of my recent podcast series all about Lent. Primitive breeds such as the Hebridean need help: help from specialist farmers and help from us, because they won’t survive if there is no demand. Primitive breeds are excellent for the smallholder – they are small and easy lambers, meaning their husbandry is much less stressful than large commercial breeds with their giant lambs! They have great character too: they are brighter and are excellent foragers that display more natural behaviours. If I ever get a bit of land, I will definitely be getting myself a little flock.

In that episode we focus on the one breed, but I thought I’d give a mention to the other primitive breeds just in case you are thinking about getting hold of some. Aside from the Hebridean there are the Soay, Manx Loaghtan, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay. They all belong to the Northern European short-tailed group, and they were probably brought to the Outer Hebridean islands by Norse settlers. They are small, very woolly and extremely hardy sheep. The islands upon which they were found were the St Kilda archipelago, and had been there since the Iron Age. Some moved and adapted, the Manx Loaghtan obviously went to the Isle of Man, but some remained on the islands and adapted too. The North Ronaldsay, for example, lives on the small rocky northernmost islands and has become a seaweed-grazing specialist.

Of all the breeds, the Soay sheep are considered to be the most like their ancestors, and it is found on several islands in the archipelago. On the island of Herta, a feral population of around 1500 was discovered; their name is befitting because Soay is Norse for sheep island.

A plane’s view of the islands (pic: Flying Fish World)

This recipe is exactly the same as the other one except the lamb is served with a blueberry sauce rather than a gravy. Although we are at the tail-end of the blog, I actually made this sauce for my first ever pop up restaurant all the way back in 2013 which took place in my little terraced house – a lot has happened since then, that’s for sure! It sounded so delicious I couldn’t wait until I found some primitive lamb. The usual fruit to serve with lamb is of course the tart redcurrant, usually in jelly form. Blueberries are usually sweeter than currants, but Jane is not daft and makes up for it with the addition of a vinegar syrup.

And, if you are thinking this is some kind of American abomination, don’t be so sure: although all of the blueberries we buy in  shops are undoubtably American varieties, don’t forget its close relative, the more humble blaeberry, which I suspect is what the lamb would have been served with. It’s appeared in the blog before, and scored full marks: #xxx Blaeberry Pie

Anyway, enough waffle: here’s what to do:

Roast the lamb or hogget as described for #438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy, but instead of making the gravy start to make this blueberry sauce as it roasts:

In a saucepan simmer eight ounces of blueberries with ¼ pint of dry white wine, ¼ pint of lamb stock and a tablespoon of caster sugar. Remove a couple of dozen of the best berries for the garnish and blitz the remainder in a blender and pass through a sieve.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and boil down until quite syrupy, then add to the blended berries along with some finely chopped mint or rosemary. Set aside and return to it when the roast had been taken out of the oven.

Skim any fat from the meat juices and pour them into the blueberry sauce. Reheat and add some lemon juice – I used a little shy of half a lemon here – and then season with salt and pepper, and even sugar if needed. When ready pour into a sauce boat, not forgetting to add in the reserved berries.

#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce. Well you won’t be surprised that this was, again, delicious, how could it not be? I did a better job of roasting it this time I feel. I really enjoyed the blueberry sauce and it went very well with the slightly gamey meat. I think I may have preferred the plain gravy to the blueberries though, but there’s not much in it. Because of this doubt, I am scoring it a very solid 9.5/10

P.S. The leftovers made an excellent #84 Shepherd’s Pie.

Refs:

‘British Rare & Traditional Sheep Breeds’ The Accidental Smallholder website: www.accidentalsmallholder.net/livestock/sheep/british-rare-and-traditional-sheep-breeds/

‘Soay’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/soay

‘Manx Loaghtan’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/manx-loaghtan

‘Hebridean Sheep Characteristics & Breeding Information’ Roy’s Farm website: www.roysfarm.com/hebridean-sheep

‘About Shetlands’ North American Shetland Sheepbreeders’ Association website: www.shetland-sheep.org/about-shetlands/

‘The Origins of Registered Boreray Sheep’, Sheep of St Kilda website: www.soayandboreraysheep.com/

‘Boreray’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/boreray-sheep-25

‘North Ronaldsay’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/north-ronaldsay

#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.

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot

I recently made to visit to my friends in their 18th century house in Mallerstang, Cumbria and have been meaning to bring the ingredients up with me to make this dish. It’s one of those lamb, onion and potato based meals you find in the North of England such as Lancashire Hot Pot and Lobscouse, or indeed Irish stew and Scotch broth. It mysteriously appears in the Meat Pies & Puddings section of the Meat, Poultry & Game Chapter.

Mallerstang is a beautiful, slightly bleak, hamlet close to Kirkby Stephen. It sits at the foot of Wild Boar Fell, and there are the remains of a mediaeval castle which is flanked by the sparkling River Eden. It’s an amazing place that is seemingly trapped in time; I recommend a visit.

Cumbrian Tatie Pot is one of those rare dishes in England that mixes its meats, something more common on Continental Europe. “The recipe in slightly different form appears in various books of Lakeland cookery”, says Jane, “and often the beef is described as ‘optional’ – which it most definitely is not. It makes the character of the dish. So resist the national tendency to leave it out.” You have been told.  I found several recipes on the Internet, and none of themhad beef on their ingredient lists.

“Tatie Pot”, she goes on to say, “is very much a dish of communal eating, at village get-togethers, or at society beanos…There is always a certain rivalry to see whose version is the best.” Well I was driving up for a get-together and it was Cumbrian and it looked like the perfect dish to cook in a kitchen equipped with an Aga. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing you need to do is get hold of the meat; you’ll need 2 pounds of either scrag end (often called round of lamb/mutton these days) or best end of neck off the bone and 2 pounds of shin of beef. Make sure you ask for the bones as well as some extra ones, if the butcher has some. Whilst you’re in the butcher’s shop get yourself a nice black pudding.

When you get home, use the bones and some stock vegetables and herbs, plus a little wine if you have it, to make a good stock. As I was cooking on an Aga, I could get it simmering on the hot plate before popping it in the cool oven overnight. Here’s a post from the other blog on stock-making, if you’re not used to making them.

Cut the meats into good-sized pieces and coat them in some well-seasoned flourand arrange the pieces in a wide roasting pan. Scatter over the meat six level tablespoons of mixed, dried pulses(e.g. split peas, pearl barley, red lentils). In the original recipe, Jane says to soak them overnight, but with today’s dried pulses there is no need for this step. Chop two large onions and slice the black pudding into half-inch slices and disperse these evenly, tucking the black pudding between pieces of meat. Season.

Next, peel around three pounds of potatoes and quarter them lengthways. Arrange them on top with their rounded sides pointing upwards. Season well.

Skim the stock of fat and warm it up then pour it over so that it comes halfway up the spuds. Bake at 200⁰C for four hours, topping up the stock with more stock or water, so that the potatoes get a good, dark, crunchy top. As I was cooking on an Aga, I put the tatie pot in the hot oven for two hours and then in the cool oven until everything was nicely cooked and unctuous. The hot oven was rather hotter than expected and the potatoes were perhaps a little darker and crunchier than expected, but never mind, this is country cooking.

#416 Cumbrian Tatie Pot. Even though those potatoes were a little on the burnt side, they did not detract from the fact this was an absolutely delicious dish. The long and slow cooked meat was as soft as butter, the pulses gave body and nuttiness and it was a delight to discover a piece of melting black pudding every now and again. This is definitely going to appear on a future menu; simple and excellent food that sticks to your ribs: 9.5/10

#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.

#403 Raised Mutton Pies

Just a quickie from theMeat Pies &Puddings part of the Meat, Poultry & Game Chapter:

This is the last of the raised pie recipes in English Food. It’s a little different in that you don’t need to make a jellied stock like the others, but a gravy made from mutton bones.

If you can’t get hold of mutton, then lamb will do just as well.

To make the pie, you will need to make a batch of hot water pastry – have a look at the post #282 Raised Pies. It also goes through the process of making the pies themselves. In this case, the pies are to be made small. To do this you can use wooden pie dollies or jam jars and raise the pastry around them. Alternatively, and much easier, is to use muffin tins and roll pastry to fit.


For the filling, you need a whole best end of neck of mutton, or a pound of fillet meat. Make sure the butcher give you the bones of the sheep. Chop the meat finely, including some fat. Finely chop 3 shallots or 4 ounces of onion along with 4 ounces of mushrooms and a tablespoon of parsley. Mix all of these together with the meat and a teaspoon of dried thymeand salt and pepper. Place in a pan with ¼  pint of water, bring to a simmer and let it tick over for 5 minutes. Cool.


Fill your pastry cases, however you have constructed them, with the mixture and bake for 25-45 minutes at 200⁰C, depending on size.


Once whipped out of the oven, pour in gravy made from the bones. There is no instruction from Jane as to how to make this, but it’s pretty easy. Make a stock from bones, trimmings and some stock veg. Reduce it and mix into a roux of butter and flour to thicken it up.


#403 Raised Mutton Pies. These were great – I must admit I was a little dubious of the watery filling, but it really was delicious, the vegetables and herbs made the water into a delicious stock, which reduced during baking. They were so good, I added them to one of pop-up restaurant menus. 8/10.


#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

 

#340 Veal (or Lamb) Cutlets

Here’s a simple recipe from the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter. I am trying to get through all of the veal recipes before I move back to England later this year; it’s not because it is cheaper here, it’s just that it is much easier to get hold of.
A cutlet is a chop (rib) from the best end of neck, just above the shoulders. I went for veal, though they were called ‘Tomahawk Chops’ in the shop, I don’t know that’s typical in the US or not. Anyways, it’s a very tender cut of meat that needs very little cooking, what is nicely done here is the meat is breadcrumbed so it is protected from direct heat, keeping it juicy, but with a crunch. Jane says that the thickest the cutlets should be is an inch. You need one cutlet per person (or two, or even three, if doing lamb). Jane also mentions that boned loin can be used, but the slices should be half an inch, maximum. That’s us told.
You need some breadcrumbs first: I use a blender for that job and then scatter them over a baking tray and let them dry out in a cool oven. If the bits are too big, you can always give them a very quick whizz in the blender again. Mind you don’t turn them into dust though. Take the meat out of the fridge so it can warm up to room temperature.
To the breadcrumbs add some grated lemon zest and finely-chopped herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram and my new favourite herb, winter savory. Coat the cutlets in flour, patting off the excess, then into some beatenegg and then into the herby crumbs.
Heat some clarified butter in a heavy-based frying pan and fry gently on both sides. The amount of time depends on the thickness of the meat and how ‘done’ you want it to be. I did inch-thick cutlets, cooking them around 3 or 4 minutes a side. The crispy crumb protects the meat, so if you do accidentally cook the meat right through, it won’t be dry.
When cooked, take out the cutlets and let them rest while you get on with the job of making a sauce: on a medium heat, stir 2 teaspoons of flour into the pan juices and then whisk in ½ pint of stock– veal, lamb or chicken, it’s up to you – simmer for a little under 10 minutes to cook out the flour. Take it off the heat and then whisk in a good-sized knob of butter. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. “The sauce should be well seasoned, and not too copious or thick”, says Jane.
“Lemon quarters, mushrooms, watercress, a few boiled potatoes, are the right kind of setting for a meat cooked in this way”. I did the same, though I swapped watercress for broccoli. I think you always need something on your plate, perhaps that’s why she included watercress.
#340 Veal (or Lamb) Cutlets. These were great; everything was all very subtly-flavoured so the slightly piquant lemon and herbs didn’t mask the wonderfully tender veal. What else can I say? Great stuff. 8/10.

#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.

#317 Skuets

This is an old recipe made up of sweetbreads, bacon and mushrooms grilled on skewers. Indeed, the work skuet is a corruption of the word skewer. The recipe first pops up in the literature in The Compleat Housewife by E Smith (a Lady) first published in 1729. Here’s her recipe from the 1753 edition:

Take fine, long, and slender skewers; then cut veal sweet-breads into pieces like dice, and some fine bacon into thin square bits; so season them with forc’d-meat, and then spit them on the skewers, a bit of sweet-bread, and a bit of bacon, till all is on; roast them, and lay them round a fricasy of sheep’s-tongues.

Chef to kings: Antoine Carême

Forced meat is simply meat mixed with other ingredients to ‘force’ it to go further. I made forcemeat balls a while back (click here for the post). The recipe given here is a jazzed-up version from French chef Antoine Carême’s 1833 book L’art de la cuisine franҫaise au dix-neuvième siècle. According to Grigson, he praises it as an excellent English dish. Jane suspects he found out about it when he lived and worked in London as the Prince Regent’s chef. The changes he made were simple: lose the forcemeat, add some nice mushrooms and serve with bread sauce (see here for recipe) as well as some crunchy browned breadcrumbs.

Sweetbreads are not the easiest of cuts to get hold of these days: I remember speaking to a butcher in Houston who said he came by them sometimes, but if I wanted some, I would have to buy a whole ten pound tray. I was tempted but declined. What if I didn’t like them? Well I am glad I didn’t because I spotted a pack of frozen calves’ sweetbreads in Whole Foods whilst buying some other bits and bobs. I do love that shop.


For those that are not aware, sweetbreads are a type of offal and come from the thyroid gland, situated around the throat, of either calves or lambs. The thyroid, or thymus, gland produces the hormone thyroxin which is involved in the proper regulation of metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is a common disease where the sufferer produces too much, causing very high metabolism and, as a consequence, is rather skinny. I had a cat with it once. Other glandular organs are also sold as sweetbreads such as the pancreas, the sublingual glands of the tongue, the parotid gland of the cheek and also the testicles, though ‘throat’ sweetbreads are by far the commonest. Why are they called sweetbreads? Well, they are sweet because they taste richer and sweeter compared to meat, and they are bread because the old English word for flesh is bræd. I assume the bread that we get in loaves carries the name it does because Jesus said bread was his flesh during the Last Supper (I’m surprised he didn’t put anyone off).

Diagram showing the position of the thyroid, or thymus, glands

Sweetbreads were once very, very popular, but have now died a death. Though, like many of the old forgotten cuts of meat, there is a slight resurgence. I had never eaten them, but certainly wasn’t nervous about eating a big gland; I just always worry that the reason people don’t choose to eat them anymore is because they taste bad.

This recipe makes enough for four people:


Begin by preparing a pound of veal or lamb sweetbreads. To do this, dissolve a tablespoon of salt in some water and soak them for around an hour. Rinse them, place in a saucepan and cover with chicken or veal stock and mix in a couple of teaspoons of either lemon juice or wine vinegar. Bring to a boil and allow them to simmer until they go from pale pink to a whitish opaqueness.

In the case of veal sweetbreads, this took about 15 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and allow to cool a little before removing any membranes or gristly bits. You must be careful here – Jane makes a point of mentioning this and she was right – don’t let too much of the sweetbread come away with the membranes. If using lamb sweetbreads, be extra careful, as you’ll end up with nothing! Press the sweetbreads by pressing a plate on them until they cool.

Turn the grill on to a medium heat. Whilst it warms up you can construct your skuets: cut the sweetbreads into chunks – 12 good sized cubes is best – cut around 8 rashers of streaky bacon to square shapes and brush any dirt from 16 medium-sized mushrooms. Take a skewer and add a mushroom, some bacon, a piece of sweetbread, a bit of bacon, a mushroom etc. I used four mushrooms and three pieces of sweetbread per skewer each separated with some bacon. Make four skuets in all.

Brush them with melted butter and grill them, turning occasionally for about 15 minutes. Whilst they are cooking, fry some breadcrumbs in butter until brown and crisp.

Serve with some of the browned crumbs and bread sauce as well as some nice vegetables.

#317 Skuets. What a revelation these turned out to be. A really good meal and the sweetbreads were by no means gross. They were very tender and sweet, and tasted faintly of oysters. I put this down to the fact there must be a lot of iodine in sweetbreads as it is required for them to function properly. The salty bacon and the juicy grilled mushrooms complemented it very well. The crumbs lent a nice bit of crunch and bread sauce is always welcome in my book. All-in-all a very good meal. 8.5/10