‘Spring lamb is a treat, albeit an expensive one’, says Rory O’Connell in his new book ‘Cook Well, Eat Well’ published by Gill Books. ‘And in my home it is the centrepiece of Easter Sunday lunch. If it is spring lamb with its mild, sweet flavour that you want, make sure to stress the word ‘spring’ to your butcher. Give plenty of notice with your order out of consideration to your butcher and you will be rewarded for your forward thinking. These lambs are born before or around Christmas, mainly milk fed with a little clover pasture to boot, and are ready for the Easter table. In my opinion it needs nothing added to its thin skin other than salt and pepper to make it into one of the most memorable meals of the year. The spices and stronger herbs associated with lamb are more appropriate with the stronger-tasting meat later in the year. The most traditional and still one of the best accompaniments for the meat is a classic thin mint sauce, but here I am suggesting a light mint-flavoured hollandaise sauce, which enhances rather than overpowers the flavour of the meat.’
For the Roast Leg of Spring Lamb
1 x 2.7kg leg of spring lamb
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml chicken stock
A tangle of spring vegetables (see recipe below)
Boiled new potatoes (see recipe below)
Mint hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)
1. Preheat the oven to 180ÆC.
2. Put the lamb in a roasting tin and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 1 hour 10 minutes for pink, 1 hour 20 minutes for medium or 1 hour 30 minutes for well done. Baste the meat with the small amount of fat and cooking juices that gather on the bottom of the roasting tin several times during the cooking.
3. Remove the lamb from the oven and reduce the temperature to 100°C. Return the lamb to the warm oven on a platter to rest for at least 15 minutes.
4. While the lamb is resting, make the gravy. Degrease the roasting tray by pouring the liquid into a Pyrex jug, then place the jug in the freezer. Some of the meat juices will be mixed with fat, and as it sits and chills, the fat will rise to the surface and the dark-coloured juices will be visible at the bottom. The fat can be removed and discarded and these juices can be added to the gravy later.
5. Place the roasting tin on a low heat and pour in the chicken stock to deglaze the tin. Whisk vigorously to encourage the caramelised meat juices on the bottom of the roasting tin to dissolve into the stock. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and bring up to a simmer. Strain the gravy through a sieve into a small saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Lift the fat off the chilled meat juices and add the juices to the gravy. Taste to check the flavour. If it tastes a little light, allow it to continue simmering for a few minutes longer so that it reduces and concentrates the flavour. You will have less gravy, but more flavour. Taste again and if you are happy with it now, add the butter and gently whisk it into the sauce at a simmer. As soon as the butter has all been incorporated, remove the gravy from the heat for reheating when needed.
6. Serve the lamb on a hot platter with the bubbling hot gravy, spring vegetables and boiled new potatoes and pass the mint hollandaise sauce separately.
Mint Hollandaise Sauce
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
100g butter, cut into 1cm dice
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1–2 tablespoons finely chopped
Fresh mint leaves (chop just before adding to the sauce)
1. This classic sauce still has its place in my kitchen. All you need are good eggs and butter and a little lemon juice to sharpen and you have one of the most useful and delicious of sauces for serving with fish, fine vegetables such as asparagus and sea kale and in this case with mild spring lamb. I always chop the mint just before adding it to the sauce at the last minute. If you chop the mint ahead of time and allow it to sit at room temperature or in the fridge, it will oxidise and become bitter.
1. Put the egg yolks and water in a small low-sided heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk well. Put on a low heat and add the butter three or four cubes at a time. Whisk continuously and the butter will gradually melt and emulsify into the egg yolks and start forming a sauce. Continue whisking and adding the butter when the previous additions have melted in. Your only enemy here is too much heat, so keep the heat gentle and if necessary slip the saucepan off the heat occasionally if you think it is getting too hot. Too much heat will scramble the eggs. The side of the saucepan should never at any stage of the cooking be too hot for you to touch it quickly with your bare fingers. If the sauce shows signs of scrambling, add 1 dessertspoon of cold water and keep whisking. When all the butter has been added, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.
2. Decant the sauce into a sauceboat and place it in a saucepan of warm tap water, not on the heat. The sauce, which is served warm rather than hot, will keep perfectly for 1 hour. If you find it has cooled too much on you, replace the water in the saucepan with hand-hot water and stir 1 dessertspoon of warm water into the sauce.
3. Just before you are ready to serve, stir the mint into the hollandaise sauce.
A Tangle of Spring Vegetables
This dish is a mixture of spring vegetables, which pairs beautifully with the spring lamb and indeed most other meats, poultry and fish. The use of the word ‘tangle’ in the title may cause a few raised eyebrows, but the cooked vegetables are in fact tangled together in a gentle knot, so I am happy that the word is entirely appropriate. I have borrowed it from my Australian friend Skye Gyngell, who cooks some of the most delicious, heavenly food I have ever eaten and with whom I cooked this dish for the first time on the beautiful Isle of Bute off the western coast of Scotland, a precious memory of a glorious time. These vegetables also make a delicious lunch or supper dish when a coarse grating of Parmesan is added at the very last minute and a soft poached egg and a couple of anchovies are popped on top – with some good bread, a simple but perfect meal.
16 small spring carrots
16 baby beetroot, no bigger than a golf ball
16 spring onions
16 asparagus spears
16 chard leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
2. Wash or scrub the carrots and beets, leaving 2cm of the stalk attached. Trim the spring onions and rinse them too if necessary. Snap off the tough bottoms of the asparagus spears and economically peel off about 5cm of the remaining tougher skin. Remove the white stalk from the chard leaves and cut them into 3cm pieces at an angle for a more beautiful-looking presentation. Pull the chard leaves into pieces about the size of your hand.
3. Toss the carrots and beets in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a roasting tray in a single layer and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of cooking, add the spring onions to the roasting tray and return to the oven to cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, season with salt and add the asparagus. Cook for about 6 minutes, until tender. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and lay out flat in a single layer to cool slightly. Add the chard stalks to the same boiling water and cook for about 6 minutes before adding the leaves and cooking for a further 3 minutes. Strain and spread out alongside the asparagus to also cool slightly. Reserve 100ml of the vegetable cooking water.
5. When all the vegetables are slightly cooled but still warm, dress them with olive oil and lemon juice while gently mixing them together. Taste and correct the seasoning. They can be served straight away or reheated later.
6. If I am reheating the vegetables later, I use some of the reserved cooking water to help to prevent them from sticking. Place a wide sauté pan or low-sided saucepan on a medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of the cooking water and bring to a simmer. Add the vegetables and gently toss them until heated through. I prefer to serve these vegetables quite hot rather than red hot, as I find that if the heat is too intense, some of the flavour is lost.
Boiled New Potatoes
Most Irish people eagerly await the arrival of the new potato crop. By the time they appear, the main season potatoes will be getting a bit tired and the delicacy of flavour of the new arrivals suits the new spring flavours of lamb, asparagus, and so on. With new potatoes, freshness is vital. The other key factor is that the potatoes have not been washed before you buy them, as the flavour and texture of the potatoes deteriorate rapidly when the thin, delicate skin is removed. The sprig of mint here is optional, but it adds a delicat flavour to the earliest new potatoes. New potatoes need to be served as soon as possible after cooking.
900g new potatoes, scrubbed fine sea salt, for cooking the potatoes
1 sprig of fresh mint (optional)
Butter, to serve
Maldon sea salt, to serve
1. Put the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling water that they fit snugly into. Add a couple of large pinches of fine salt and the mint (if using). The water should taste quite salty. Cover the pot and cook at a steady boil for 10 minutes. Strain off most of the water, leaving just 2cm of water in the saucepan, and replace the lid. Continue cooking at a steady simmer until the potatoes are tender. They will now mostly be cooking in steam. Keep an eye on the saucepan to check that all of the remaining water does not evaporate. The fresher the potatoes, the more quickly they will cook. The size of the potatoes is also a determining factor in the cooking time. Test after a further 10 minutes to see if they are tender – a skewer should pierce them easily and with no resistance.
2. Serve as soon as possible after cooking with Irish butter and sea salt.
‘We sometimes forget how good a simple main season boiled potato cooked in its jacket can be’, says Rory. ‘The potatoes can be cooked in exactly the same way as the new potatoes above, except I like to start them in cold water rather than boiling water and the mint can be omitted. If the potatoes are floury, a knob of butter makes the perfect sauce and a pinch of sea salt the perfect seasoning.’
MORE RECIPES FROM RORY O’CONNELL’S BOOK ‘COOK WELL EAT WELL’
Rory O’Connell: Roasted Cauliflower with Red Onion, Cumin and Muhammara
Roast Wild Salmon with Summer Leaves, Pea Tendrils, Leaves and Flowers and Preserved Lemon Dressing
Toasted Coconut and Lime Cake
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