Saddle of lamb
Easter soon will be upon us, and with it a four-day break whose meaning seems to have changed for many as life becomes more secular. The traditional foods we eat at Easter have also changed as an increasing number of people eschew the consumption of meat. But let’s step away from the thorny debate over meat-eating and look at the history of why we eat lamb at Easter – a tradition that well and truly predates the marketing campaign of Meat & Livestock Australia.
Long before Christianity, in plague-ravaged Egypt, Jewish people would paint their front doors with lamb’s blood in the hope that the disease would “pass over” their house and spare their first born. The Sephardic Jews then went on to eat lamb at Passover and the tradition continued into Christianity, with the added reverence of Jesus being seen as the Lamb of God. In both traditions, the word sacrifice and sacrificial are used a great deal. It is always a welcome reminder to me to treat meat with respect and humility. To buy well-farmed meat, to cook it beautifully and to waste none of it.
As a child I was fascinated by our local butchers. The butchers themselves were the jolliest shopkeepers on our suburban strip. The space behind the counter was a sea of wood shavings, large wooden blocks with wavy tops and an array of tools hanging from hooks. If I ever happened in there on an errand for my mother and a lamb was hanging on the runners, it would be modestly shrouded in a wrap of muslin or calico, adding to my sense of wonder over the job that was done behind the glass counter. In a world of mass production, stainless steel, foam trays and plastic wrap, I miss those images and I miss that sense of skill and reverence.
A saddle of lamb is a cut we don’t often see anymore. There is a tendency for butchers to cut the beast in half, before separating it into chops and legs and shoulders. You will need to visit a butcher in advance and ask them to prepare a saddle for you. For me, this is one of the grandest and most delicious roast dinners. A good-sized saddle will feed 12 people if you eat a modest amount of meat and augment it with lots of vegetables and salads.
Saddle of lamb
Serves up to 12
For the stuffing
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 rosemary sprigs, stripped and chopped
10 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped
5 sprigs thyme, stripped and chopped
10 sage leaves, torn
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 boned saddle of lamb weighing about 1.5kg, skirts removed (ask your butcher to do this for you)
1 tbsp of olive oil
1kg washed new potatoes
2 bulbs garlic, broken into cloves
12 shallots, peeled
First, make the stuffing. In a pan, melt the butter over a gentle heat and add the shallots and crushed garlic. Cook gently until softened. Cool.
Combine the shallot mix, the herbs, breadcrumbs and egg to form the stuffing. Season with a little salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 240°C.
Lie the lamb saddle out on a board, skin-side up. Massage the skin with the olive oil and a good amount of flaked salt. Turn the saddle over. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the stuffing in a line down the middle, bring the sides up and roll into a large sausage shape so the stuffing can be seen only at the ends. Tie with string.
In a large baking dish add the washed new potatoes, garlic and shallots. I like to keep the garlic and shallots in the middle so the lamb sits around them, keeping them moist. The potatoes scatter around the outside so they can get crisp. I don’t tend to add any fat to the potatoes as they will absorb the fat and juices from the lamb as it roasts. Place the lamb in the centre of the tray.
Place in the hot oven for 20 minutes, until the skin is crisp and golden. Turn the oven down to 180°C and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until the meat has an internal temperature of 58°C.
Leave to rest for at least 10 minutes on a board covered loosely with foil. Untie the string, carve and serve with the vegetables.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 27, 2021 as "Grazing saddles".
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