#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.