Behold the lamb
Mint sauce – particularly mint jelly – is something to which I have never really taken. I’ve always known shop-bought mint sauce had its place, and that was untouched at the back of the fridge. Recently, however, a friend ripped a bunch of mint out of the garden and made a simple vinaigrette to accompany a roast leg of lamb. Finally I was convinced.
I’ve taken that approach and added some diced shallots to sharpen the flavour and add to the freshness. Historically, a sauce such as this would have been used to cover the stronger flavour of larger lambs. It is also a salve to the scourge of well-meaning but overcooked lamb. Sweet and sour sauces like this were common throughout mediaeval Europe, but mint sauce is the one to hold on, mostly in England. Here, it simply complements the flavour.
The peas in this recipe are also a British reference. The best advice I’ve heard on peas is to wait until they are in season, and then use frozen ones. I don’t know if it’s the freezing process, or when the peas are picked, but it is the only vegetable I routinely use frozen. Their fresh cousins are often somehow chalky and bland – probably because of the time they have been sitting at market. Because they’re in pods, it is often difficult to determine how fresh the pea is, and you don’t know until you get home and cook them. Recently, I bought a pack of organic frozen peas, and they were rubbish compared with the ones from McCain.
In this recipe, I add preserved lemon to bring flavour without adding any acid, which is already there in the vinaigrette.
Moving into spring, lamb can be quite rich and fatty. The breed also affects this.
Lincoln was bred for its wool production, and carries a lot more fat, which is not my preference for this recipe. Something like a Shropshire was bred primarily for meat and is leaner. They have short, stubby legs and put on good weight, and were one of the first lambs bred for retail production.
I’m also fond of Cheviot lamb – a highland sheep from the border of Scotland and England. They have a good, even amount of fat, and a sweetness and grassy flavour.
I mostly use lamb shoulder. But a lamb leg, boned and rolled can work equally well. If your butcher is willing, I like a little bit of fennel seed and garlic and perhaps even lemon zest rolled in the middle.
There is no great secret to roasting meat like this. I blast it in a hot oven for about 10 minutes to caramelise the meat and break down the intermuscular fat and cartilage, and then bring the temperature down. The perfect lamb is medium, and won’t bleed when carved.
Roast lamb with crushed peas and mint sauce
– 2kg lamb shoulder, boned and trussed (ask your butcher
to do this)
– 500g peas
– 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– ¼ preserved lemon
Heat your oven to 250ºC.
Rub the lamb with a little vegetable oil and season well with salt.
Roast the lamb for 10 minutes at 250ºC then reduce the heat to 190ºC and cook for one hour, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 52ºC (rare) or 55ºC (medium rare).
Take the meat from the oven, cover it loosely with foil and leave it to rest for 15 minutes while you prepare the peas.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the peas for three minutes until they are bright green and just soft. Drain the peas and place in a bowl. Dress with the extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Cut the skin of the preserved lemon into fine slivers. Roughly mash the hot peas with a fork, and stir through the slivers of preserved lemon at the end.
Serve the sliced lamb with the crushed peas and mint sauce (recipe below) on the side.
– ¼ cup sugar
– ¼ cup white vinegar
– ½ tsp salt
– 5 shallots, very finely diced (3 tbsp diced shallot)
– 1 handful mint leaves
In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and vinegar to the boil and give it a stir to dissolve the sugar. Take the saucepan off the heat, add the salt and finely diced shallots and leave the mixture to cool.
Just before you wish to serve the sauce, finely chop the mint leaves – you want about two tablespoons of chopped mint – and add them to the cooled sauce.
2012 Sorrenberg cabernet sauvignon blend, Beechworth, Vic ($45)
–Mark Williamson, sommelier, Cumulus Inc
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 19, 2015 as "Behold the lamb". Subscribe here.