#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

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon

‘Why’, you may think ‘has this relatively straight-forward recipe taken me so long to get around to?’ The answer is very simple and is two-fold: it doesn’t sound that nice and it’s quite expensive to make. However, in this time of lockdown, I realised that I could buy all the ingredients for it quite easily from a local fishmonger whilst out doing my appropriately socially-distanced weekly shop, and so as a bit of procrastination I made it. The recipe is essentially smoked salmon with crème fraiche and salmon roe. It sounds very 1970s, though it may not be as old as that.

The Walnut Tree Inn (thewalnuttreeinn.com)

The recipe comes from Franco Taruschino who, at the time English Food was published, was chef at the Walnut Tree Inn at Llandewi Skirrid near Abergavenny. The place is described by Jane as “one of the nicest places to visit in the British Isles.” Today the kitchen’s head chef is the Michelin-starred Shaun Hill, another favourite of Jane’s who appears several times in English Food as well as her other tomes. In fact, he was one of the guests on the episode of the BBC’s Food Programme about Jane Grigson that Yours Truly also appeared in. Link to part 1 here and part 2 here.

This recipe serves ten, but it can be easily adapted to serve more or fewer people, which is lucky for me in these days of lockdown, as there was obviously no way I was going to be serving that many. The recipe below uses 1 ½ pounds of smoked salmon for 10 servings. I could only get hold of small packs and managed to get a third of what was required, enough to line 4 small ramekins. Anyway, multiply up or divide down as appropriate for you:

Swirl out your ramekins with water and line them with strips of salmon, making sure there is a little overhanging. Take any trimmings and place in a blender with 8 fluid ounces of crème fraiche (or half and half double and soured cream). Season with ½ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon. This stage was a disaster for me – because shelves were pretty bare, I could only get low fat crème fraiche (a very First World problem, I do realise) and so the whole thing was reduce to a thin liquid; blending had done away with the artificial structure given to it in the form of pectin or whatever. I attempted to remedy this by adding a couple of leaves of gelatine dissolved in a little boiling water to it, which I just got away with.

Fold through this mixture, 8 teaspoons of salted red salmon roe (or indeed any roe). Spoon into the lined ramekins, lay over the overhanging salmon, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to set (in my case overnight because of the gelatine).

Meanwhile, get on with the tomato sauce. Finely chop enough shallot to yield 2 tablespoons and fry it until golden in a little olive oil, then add 2 pounds of tomatoes that have been skinned, seeded and chopped*. Fry until the tomatoes turn pulpy, then season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Pass through a sieve to make a smooth sauce – you can use a hand blender first if your tomatoes do not seem pulpy enough to pass through one. Check for seasoning, remembering it will need to be slightly over-seasoned as it is served chilled. Place this in the fridge to cool down.

When ready to serve, place a couple of tablespoons of the sauce in centre of ten serving plates and gingerly release each bavarois from its ramekin onto your hand. A small palette knife came in very handy here, and it wasn’t too tricky: just don’t get hasty and shake the ramekin unless you want disaster to strike; the best things (and sometimes the worst, it seems) come to those who wait.

Place a bavarois in the centre of each circle, and scatter over some finely chopped chives to garnish.

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon. This recipe seems so outdated now. I suppose it is no surprise that it is the contemporary recipes that have aged more quickly that the traditional or historical ones. Anyway, this was less horrible as expected and it all got eaten, but for the poor return it was a lot of faff and expense. Give me some good cold-smoked fish, some butter, brown bread and a wedge of lemon or blob of horseradish sauce any day of the week. Not one of her worst, but not good enough to even be average either: 3/10

*to do this, cut a cross on the underside of each tomato, place in a jug or bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave for 2 minutes, then fish out with a slotted spoon. The skin will come away from the flesh relatively easy if you use a good paring knife to aid you. Once removed, they can be halved and the watery centres and seeds scooped out and discarded (or popped into the vegetable trimmings stock bag in the freezer).

Chapter 8: Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves – Completed!

Well folks, another full chapter is complete!

This was a bit of an odds-and-ends one which was full of revelations for me because it covered a large area of cookery even most chefs don’t bother with these days.
#272 Melted Butter

It’s rather difficult to reflect upon what Jane thought directly, because Chapter 8 is the only one that does not benefit from a written introduction. It was obviously an important area for her though, as she really looks towards under-used ingredients and uses a variety of techniques, so it’s well worth having a look through yourself.
#343 Oyster Stuffing
I – unsurprisingly – split the chapter into the following sections:
8.1: Stuffings (5 recipes)
8.2: Sauces (19 recipes)
8.3: Preserves (21 recipes)
Giving a total of 35 recipes. Click on the hyperlinks to see my review of the individual sections.
The chapter scored an overall mean of 7.6, the highest score so far for a completed chapter, fuelled by three recipes receiving top marks and a lack of total disasters. For those who care (and I know none of you do), here’s a little bar chart showing the mean scores for the chapter as a whole and as separate sections with standard deviation bars.
The five Stuffingrecipes are absolutely delicious, with #343 Oyster Stuffing being one of the most delicious things I have ever made. Growing up in a Paxo household meant I simply did not know how good a simple stuffing could be.

The Sauceswere diverse and delicious, the simplest – #306 Mint Sauce – being the best, but there are other great recipes, such as #272 Melted Butter and #432 White Devil Sauce.

#109 Quince Comfits
There’s a huge variety in the Preservessection too, with Jane avoiding the obvious things like raspberry jam. Instead she uses ingredients like cornel cherries, medlars and sorbs, so you can make preserves you are very unlikely to find in any store or farmers’ market. There is variety too in the types of preserves; jams, jellies, chutneys, sugars, comfits, candies and liqueurs all make an appearance. #397 Herb Jelly is one of my favourites, as is #46 Rich Orangeade, and I have never found a better, or more simple, (#24) Seville Orange Marmalade recipe.

8.2: Sauces – completed!

English food has a bad rep wherever you go, and our sauces infamously bad. Indeed, the French only officially recognise one English sauce, and that is custard, or crème Anglaise! The French also find our combination of mint sauce and lamb bizarre, which I cannot understand when, for me, it’s one of the most delicious things one can eat.

#272 Melted Butter


Our sauces are often made with too much flour and end up being rather cloying, plenty of butter and patience and only a little flour are what is required. Using recipes that cut corners, or the purchase of preparatory versions, mean we end up forgetting what many of these foods are supposed to taste like. Jane complains about this throughout the book (and yet still includes them herself; see #411 Calf’s Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce). The British butter sauce (aka #272 Good Melted Butter) is a case in point. My only experience of this sauce was the boil in the bag cod steaks in butter sauce I ate as a child with potatoes and tinned peas, it wasn’t until I made Jane’s version that I realised just how good it could be!

#123 Bread Sauce

All the other classics are here too: mint, bread, Cumberland, apple and all score well, with #306 Mint Sauce being the only sauce to score full marks.

One revelation was tasting home-made #93 Mayonnaise, until I made it for the blog I had never tried it before! It was so different to the bought stuff and just did not know what to make of it. I’ve become quite handy at making my own now, having tweaked Jane’s recipe a little to suit my own tastes, though I do still love the supermarket stuff!

There are only a few disappointing recipes: some of the apple sauce recipes were under par, #170 English Salad Sauce was basically salty cream, nothing like the salad cream I had expected. Not good. The mediaeval #347 Sawce Noyre was simply weird, a thick bread and chicken liver-based sauce that could have been trowelled onto the roast meat with which it was supposed to be served.

#332 Cherry Sauce


There was nothing really shocking though, and the section scored an average mark of 7.3 (and a median of 7.5 and mean of 7). There was a total of 19 recipes, all of which are listed below in the order they appear in the book, along with the scores I gave them and hyperlinks to the original post.

#392 Scallops Stewed with Orange Sauce

This is a recipe that comes from the 18thCentury that unusually combines shellfish with orange – in particular the Seville orange and this is the final recipe in the book that uses them. It’s been interesting to see the diverse recipes for these bitter oranges that I used to think were used solely for making marmalade. Now that I appreciate such things, I was looking forward to this one.
If you are not a fan of shellfish, Jane says that white fish such as sole and whiting can be substituted quite easily.
This recipe serves 6 people, but it can be easily scaled up or down.
Although it’s not mentioned, use the corals in this recipe too. 
Waste not, want not!
To start, simmer together ¼ pint each of water and dry white wine along with a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon of ground mace and 2 clovesin a saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes or so. You have essentially made a very simple court bouillon. Season the water with salt and pepper, and then prepare your scallops. Cut 18 scallops in half lengthways and pop them into the water. The scallops need poached only briefly in just simmering water. I left mine in for 2 minutes only, though I reckon 90 seconds might have been better.
Quickly, fish out your scallops with a slotted spoon and keep them warm and covered. Strain the stock and reduce it to a volume of around 8 fluid ounces. Whilst you wait for that to happen, make a beurre manié by mashing together ½ ounce of softened butter with a tablespoon of flour.
When the stock has reduced, turn down the heat to a simmer and whisk in small knobs of the butter-flour mash to thicken the sauce. Let the sauce simmer without boiling for a few minutes to cook out the flour and then add the juice of a Seville orange (failing that the juice of a regular orange and the juice of half a lemon). Check the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. If you want a richer, more luxuriant, sauce beat in an egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of cream. For some reason I added some parsley to the dish, though it doesn’t say so in the recipe.
Place scallops in a bowl, pour over the sauce and serve straight away. Jane suggests serving the scallops with #176 Samphire or with #382 Laverbread as a Sauce.
#392Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce. Intriguing though the recipe was, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I didn’t think the flavour of the oranges and scallops married that well, perhaps because the sauce was rather sharp. I think with some tweaks, however, this could be made a lot better or even reimagined as a scallop and orange salad or something like that. Just below mediocre, 4.5/10.