Although I’m not much of a traditionalist, for me the long Easter weekend wouldn’t be complete without roast lamb and judging from a quick straw poll, I’m far from being alone in this respect.
I’ve been working closely with Camilla, our lamb supplier, for nearly three years now – and her organic farm on the Cambridgeshire-Bedfordshire border, Croxton Park, is the sort of place I always hoped I would get to work closely with when I originally toyed with the idea of becoming a chef.
It’s wonderfully inspirational and it makes me happy to the tips of my toes to take delivery of a whole lamb a couple of times a month, safe in the knowledge that it has benefited from the best possible farming and levels of animal husbandry.
Their produce is so good that it features on our menu throughout the year. During the cooler months it is paired with robust root vegetables and offset with a rich dark sauce made from the slow cooking of the bones. The height of summer sees it matched with courgettes, new potatoes and zingy sauces made from freshly picked herbs.
But early spring remains my favourite time to eat lamb, when the meat is at its best and most flavoursome. These are animals who are nearing a year old – technically closer to hogget than lamb – but with age comes maturity, and a depth of flavour that just isn’t present in younger animals.
The fat is richer, the meat slightly denser, the bones stronger: all three make it easy to tell that this is meat from an animal that spent time getting to know the acres of pasture and farmland available to it.
With my family descending en masse this weekend, I’ve been devising a suitable menu with which to feast handsomely on Easter Sunday. For a while I thought about slow-cooking a couple of lamb shoulders, perhaps a pommes dauphinoise on the side with heaps of new season vegetables – but as it is rare for us to all be sat around the table together I’ve plumped for something slightly more celebratory.
A saddle of lamb, stuffed and tied and roasted rosy pink is quite simply the best way to showcase this amazing meat and always causes gasps of excitement when it arrives at the table.
Fresh green herbs, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon zest and even a couple of anchovies make for an excellent and easy no-cook stuffing, and a regular sized saddle will only take 30 minutes or so to roast, meaning you won’t be waiting for hours for your Easter Sunday lunch to be ready.
Sit back, relax and revel in the warm glow of gratitude!
Stuffed lamb saddle
NB – To make this properly you’ll need to know how to tie a butcher’s knot: a tricky task but a skill well worth learning, I promise.
You will need
One saddle of lamb – ask your butcher to remove the bones, but retain the two tiny fillets.
For the stuffing
- Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 10 sun-dried tomatoes
- Four anchovies
- One lemon, zested
- Two handfuls mixed and picked soft herbs: I tend to use a combination of flat leaf parsley, mint, tarragon, chervil and dill
To make the stuffing, use a food processor to blitz the garlic, tomatoes, anchovies and lemon zest. Add a little olive oil if it is too tight. Add the herbs and blitz again, but take care not to bruise them or they will turn bitter.
To prepare the lamb, lay the boneless saddle on a board in front of you, skin side down. Trim away the exterior skin to leave about 6cm either side of the loins.
Season the meat with salt, then stuff the herb mix into the small cavity between the two loins. Place the two fillets on top of the stuffing so that they taper towards the middle of the loin.
Fold one of the sides over both loins and tightly roll the saddle so that the fold ends up underneath. Tie at least eight butcher’s knots down the loin to keep it together during roasting.
When you're ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 220 degrees C and roast the saddle for 15 minutes to get plenty of colour.
Then turn the oven down to 140 degrees, open the door to make sure the heat dissipates, and cook the lamb for a further 15 minutes. If you have an instant read digital probe thermometer, you're looking for the saddle to reach a core temperature of about 50 degrees.
Rest the saddle for a further 15 minutes before carving. Serve with plenty of potatoes – roasted new potatoes would work perfectly here – and the very best new season spring vegetables.