Get the idea: Spring lamb
Because of our temperate climate, New Zealand is expert at growing grass, the right food for herbivores like sheep and beef cattle. I have tasted lamb all over the world but, maybe because I was brought up with our variety, New Zealand lamb always has the best flavour for me — delicate, sweet and delicious. Technically, lamb shouldn’t be older than 12 months. With the emphasis having been taken off raising sheep for wool (the result of a downturn in wool prices, so not such a lot of older sheep to be slaughtered), in the upper North Island at least, lamb is the sheep meat we find in the supermarket.
Two-year-old hogget and older sheep, or mutton, are rarely seen in the supermarket although I have reports that these are available in the South Island. But for most of us, as sheep are now raised for meat, lamb cuts are seen as the prime cuts. Mutton has a stronger flavour and usually requires longer cooking.
Back in the 80s and 90s when Kiwis were starting to flex their culinary muscles, anything cooked rare was thought to be the height of sophistication and this applied to lamb. It was a practice I never fully liked, as rare lamb has an unattractive livery flavour and texture to me. I prefer lamb pink and juicy but just cooked. In other words medium. But I also like long-cooked lamb, especially if it has bones and is so tender it is falling off them.
A long cooked leg of lamb (at least three hours, covered, at about 160C) with Mediterranean flavours is a favourite of mine. Rare lamb is not superior to long-cooked lamb, it is just a different wayto cook it.
Flavours lamb loves
Lamb can take the pungent flavours of rosemary, wild oregano, lots of garlic, lemon (both fresh and preserved), mint and even anchovies, which melt not into a fishy flavour but an umami-charged savouriness. A glance at other cuisines that feature lamb also gives insights into which flavours and cooking methods go well with this delicious meat.
Indian cookery has many great traditional spiced lamb dishes (eg. lamb korma, rogan josh). Middle Eastern cuisines have always considered lamb a high status food, (in Moslem, Christian and Jewish religious lore, lamb is often the animal used for ritual slaughter) andthough the rich could enjoy any amount of it, for most people of this region, lamb was used sparingly, either in combination with, or often just to flavour the traditional fare of bread, bulgar, rice and beans.
In northwestern China, where there are huge grasslands, lamb is also part of the culinary repertoire. When I grew up lamb meant rather tough fatty chops or a roast with English mint sauce and roasted vegetables.
But there are many other ways to use this versatile meat as I hope the following with show.
Do the vaguely Chinese thing and trim the fat and sinew off a pack of lamb fillets, slice them diagonally into thin strips across the grain of the meat and stir fry them with lots of garlic, finely chopped ginger, toasted cumin seeds, spring onions, chopped coriander and sweet stem broccoli. Finish with naturally brewed Japanese soy sauce and serve on wheat noodles or with warm flatbread, with chilli bean sauce on the side.
Put some lamb mince in the food processor with some ground cinnamon, garlic, parsley, salt and lemon zest. Process until smooth then shape into patties about 10cm in diameter and about 1½ cm thick. Barbecue or panfry them and serve stuffed into warm pita breads with a sauce of plain unsweetened yoghurt well flavoured with tahini, lemon juice and salt and sliced red onions, baby cos lettuce leaves, coriander, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.
Place a leg of lamb on the bone in a deep casserole dish, add a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, several large sprigs of rosemary, chopped garlic, some smoked sweet Spanish paprika, a little water and a big slug of red wine. Cover well and place in the oven at 160C for 3-4hours (don’t panic, you don’t have to do anything while it cooks) or until falling off the bones. Serve with baked potatoes or steamed rice and a crunchy green salad to follow. Also good with the meat pulled apart and stuffed into sliders or baps with the sauce and with cucumber, mint and yoghurt.
Take a butterflied leg of lamb (ie boneless) place it on a board, cover with plastic wrap and give it a good beating with a rolling pin until it is uniformly about 3-4cm thick. (You won’t hurt it.) Cut it into two pieces, place in a bowl and add plain unsweetened yoghurt, lots of chopped garlic and some dried wild oregano. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and mix so everything is evenly distributed. Allow to marinate for an hour then shake off the excess marinade and barbecue or roast for about 15-20 minutes on a hot barbecue or in the oven. Remove from the oven and rest then slice thinly across the grain of the meat and serve on whole wheat couscous mixed with saffron soaked in a little hot water, finely diced preserved lemon peel, chopped roasted almonds, mint and coriander, and accompany with a big mixed salad.
Lash out and buy some French lamb cutlets (made by slicing up frenched lamb racks). Season them well with chilli flakes, salt and dried mint. Panfry or barbecue for a few minutes each side over high heat and serve doused in a vinaigrette made with rose vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped shallots, capers and chopped fresh mint. Serve with a creamy whipped mash of agria potatoes and crisp green beans.
Slice between lamb ribs and place them in a large bowl. Add chopped garlic, a little brown sugar, naturally brewed Japanese soy sauce, some sliced ginger and some tomato paste dissolved in a little hot water. Mix well then spread the coated ribs out side by side on a baking paper-lined oven tray. Place in the oven at 160C for 2 hours or until the meat comes off the bones easily. Uncover, place on a warm serving platter and sprinkle with Chinese black Chinkiang vinegar, spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal and lots of coriander sprigs. Serve with rice and chilli sauce.
Put some lamb neck fillets in an ovenproof casserole and add a big splash of white wine, quartered peeled red onions, garlic, plenty of scrubbed baby beetroot, some raisins, red wine vinegar and a little sugar. Cover tightly and place in the oven at 175C for 2 hours or until the lamb is very tender. Serve sprinkled with feta on steamed kasha (buckwheat) and silverbeet which has been sliced, well wilted in boiling water with spinach and rocket, cooled, squeezed dry then quick fried in extra virgin olive oil with chilli flakes, lemon zest and lots ofchopped mint added at the last moment. Not bad with a dollop of plain unsweetened additive-free yoghurt.
Make a quick bean puree in the food processor froma can of cannellini beans, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and coriander. Reserve. Place lots of extra virgin olive oil-tossed thin-sliced eggplant and peeled pumpkin and kumara side by side on baking paper-linedoven trays and roast until tender. Mix lamb mince with chopped pitted kalamata olives, a little ground allspice, garlic, salt and pepper and form into small thin patties. Barbecue or pan fry them until medium and serve inside warm sliders with the bean puree, the roasted vegetables and baby spinach.
Make the classic one-pot French spring lamb dish, navarin. Cut lamb shoulder into 3cm dice, dust lightly with flour and brown in extra virgin olive oil with plenty of sliced onions. Add a big slug of dry white wine, mix well and cook for 30 seconds. Turn up the heat, cover well with beef stock and stir until it comes to the boil. Add a large sprig of rosemary, chopped garlic, zest of a lemon, a bay leaf, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and simmer 40 minutes or until the lamb is almost tender. Add scrubbed baby potatoes (great with new season’s jersey bennes), baby carrots, baby turnips and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add baby peas and simmer a further 3 minutes. The sauce should be the consistency of liquid cream (add a little water if it gets too thick). Serve with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.
Mix together extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic, a little tomato paste and some dried wild oregano. Add a couple of lamb rump roasts and mix well. Heat an ovenproof frying pan over high heat and quickly brown the lamb all over. Transfer to a 180C oven and roast, turning occasionally for about 30 minutes for medium. Remove from the oven and rest, then slice thinly across the grain of the meat. Pour the fat from the pan and place over high heat. Add plenty of white wine, boil for 30 seconds then add beef jus. Boil until reduced and slightly syrupy. Serve the sauce over the sliced lamb with hot al dente, orzo which has been tossed with sliced semi-dried tomatoes, baby spinach and wild rocket leaves.
See more lamb recipes in our Lamb Collection.