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Monday, 31 March 2014

Lamb for Easter?

Roast lamb has long been a traditional food served up at Easter, thought to represent Christ as the lamb of God. Ironically, British lamb is far from being at its best at this time of year. Indeed, Easter often falls within the lambing season when lambs are just being born, rather than being big enough for slaughter. As a result, much of what is on offer in the shops is New Zealand lamb instead, their season being 6 months ahead of (or behind?) ours. These lambs are grass fed, slaughtered then shipped over in chilled containers, taking 2 to 3 weeks to arrive. By this time the meat has developed its full flavour and has nicely tenderised. Despite the food miles, it is relatively environmentally friendly due to the animals being grass fed and not transported by plane. If you buy British lamb for Easter then chances are the lambs were born in January and had been reared indoors and fed on animal feed rather than grass. A consequence of this life and young age at slaughter is the meat is very tender but less flavoursome compared to longer-lived, grass-fed British lamb available later in the year.

April generally is a difficult month for seasonal British ingredients. Generally, gardeners are busy sowing seeds and enjoying the first flushes of spring and there is relatively little ready to harvest. Instead, the last of the stored produce is being used up and a few key fresh ingredients take centre stage as a welcome sign of the new season. These key players include fresh herbs, just starting to put out new growth after a dormant winter; wild garlic, asparagus and rhubarb. So my Easter roast lamb meal would celebrate these lovely flavours.

You can't really beat the combination of lamb, rosemary and garlic. I insert slices of a garlic clove into stabbed cuts in the meat and poke rosemary leaves into the hole too. Wild garlic (or ransoms) can be foraged in March and April in certain woodlands (although they are very scarce in Milton Keynes due to suitable underlying geology).

If you can't find wild garlic and are growing your own garlic in the garden then the fresh new leafy growth on the new garlic plants makes an excellent substitute. You need to harvest only 4 or 5 of these leaves. Garlic chives are another alternative that works well. Back in the kitchen, finely chop the leaves then mix them into mustard powder and add a little water to form a thick paste. Smear this green garlic mustard over the surface of the raw meat. Season with salt and pepper then roast at 180°C, gas 4 for the appropriate amount of time depending on the size of your piece of meat.

Stored potatoes can be used to make lovely roast potatoes or you can seek out the first of the Jersey Royal new potatoes in the shops. Leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnips and possibly the first of the asparagus are available from the veg patch in April so any or all of these would make a tasty side dish to this roast. And for dessert, something with rhubarb... crumble or fool maybe. A finishing touch of a pot or vase spring flowers on the table and you're all set of a spectacular celebration of British springtime.

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