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How to Roast Lamb: Our Definitive Guide

Blog • October 26th 2018

History of the Roast

Roast Lamb is now commonly eaten throughout the UK as a family gathering, a great tradition in the same vane as Roast Beef, this is a centuries old tradition which is still going strong up to the present day.

Influences from around the world have led to a increase in its popularity & with British Lamb regarded as the World's best, prices have risen with demand from Europe & further afield high.

The Sunday Roast originated in England as a meal to be eaten after church on Sunday whether it be pork,mutton, beef or a fowl. Eating a large meal following church services is common to all of the continent of Europe as with other Christian countries, but the Sunday Roast variant of this meal is uniquely English. On Sundays, all types of meat and dairy produce are allowed to be eaten.

There are two historical points on the origins of the modern Sunday roast. In the late 1700s during the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom, families would place a cut of meat into the oven as they got ready for church. They would then add in vegetables such as potatoes, turnips and parsnips before going to church on a Sunday morning. When they returned from the church the dinner was all but ready. The juices from the meat and vegetables were used to make a stock or gravy to pour over the dinner.

Lamb at Easter

The tradition of eating lamb at Easter has its roots in early Passover observances before the birth of Christianity. According to the biblical Exodus story, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Jews painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb's blood so that God would "pass over" their homes while carrying out the punishment. Accustomed to eating roast lamb on Passover, Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition at Easter. Additionally, Christians refer to Jesus as the "Lamb of God," so it makes sense that the food shows up at the Easter dinner table. On a less symbolic note, lamb would have been one of the first fresh meats available after a long winter with no livestock to slaughter.

Why Mint Sauce?

To partner meat with herbs & fruit was common in medieval times, there was no actual defined sweet & savoury foods back then so unusual pairings were common place.

One theory behind the pairing of mint with lamb is a legacy of the roast lamb and bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites on the eve of their Exodus from Egypt.

Another is more straightforward, it was used to counterbalance the strong flavour, aroma of Mutton which was originally eaten back in the day, whatever the sweet aromas of the mint work perfectly well with roast lamb & is enjoyed throughout the UK

When is Lamb not Lamb?

If we think of a tasting scale, lamb would be at the mellow end and mutton would be at the deep gamey end of the scale, with hogget in the middle, richer and stronger in taste than lamb, but not as deep and gamey as mutton.

MILK FED SUCKLING LAMB Born: Dec to Mar Available: Feb to May Age: 4-6 weeks old Suckling lambs 100% milk fed by hand Average weight: 6-9 kg Tasting notes: Sweet indulgent meat, pair with delicate spring vegetables, milky yet rich

ENGLISH SPRING LAMB Born: Jan to Mar Available: May to July (in Yorkshire) Age: 3-6 months old Heritage Breeds: Various Largely Milk fed with spring grass Tasting notes: Mellow, subtle meat, creamy fat, pair with classic mediterranean ingredients such as ripe tomatoes, seasonal Asparagus & wild garlic

ENGLISH AUTUMN LAMB Born: Sept to Dec Available: Sept - Apr Heritage Breeds: Various Age: Under 11 months Tasting notes: Rounded, slightly more pronounced game, pairs well with roots, squashes, aromatic strong herbs

ENGLISH SUMMER LAMB Born: Apr to Aug Available: July - Sept Heritage Breeds: Various Age: Under 11 months Tasting notes: Rounded, traditional grassy flavours, pairs well with fresh citrus style sauces such as a Vierge

ENGLISH HOGGET Available: All year RearedL: 11 months to 24 months Heritage Breeds: Various Did you Know...Hogget is the name of the first shearing of a sheep and is the best wool that animal will ever give. Tasting notes: More gamey flavoured, pairs well with meatier wild mushrooms such as Ceps & Girolles as well as sturdy Brassica

ENGLISH SWALEDALE MUTTON Available: Sept - May Reared: 2 years Heritage Breeds: Swaledale (grazing on the Swaledale) Type: Female or Castrated Tasting notes: Deep flavour, long on the palate, slightly gamey rich herbal notes, pairs well with aromatic spices, root vegetables & red wine

Choosing the right Joint for you

There are many delicious cuts of lamb and it can be difficult to choose the ideal one for you. Here are some pointers to help. Joints taken from the lamb saddle are the equivalent to the beef Sirloin, fillet & forerib & command the highest price point but are truly worth it, cuts such as best end (rack) french trimmed, bone & rolled loin or saddle are real centerpieces for the table.

Other joints which are more popular on a regular basis & less expensive are leg, both bone in or butterflied plus individual rump roast portions.

Other less common joints we feature are the shoulder joint again bone in or bone out which are best pot roasted, one of my all time favourites.

Roasting ‘on the bone’ joints

The benefits of roasting lamb on the bone are added flavour profile as the lamb roasts its naturally boasted by the goodness the bone will produce, less shrinkage & better retention of moisture, it can be more tricky to carve though following the basic principle of carving at the same angles as the bone is facing will make the task a lot simpler.

Resting time is paramount & i would suggest minimum 10 minutes per 450g resting time

Jeff’s preferred Roasting Joints

My Preferred choice of joints for Traditional Roast Lamb are Lamb Shoulder Joint, Butterflied Leg of Lamb & Loin Boned & Rolled.

Shoulder Joint: A affordable cut which is one of my all time favourites, perfect to pot roast, a family treat on a Sunday, a very forgiving joint as its interlaced with layers of rich, buttery fat which acts as a moisturising agent whilst the joint roasts, the combination of amazing meltingly tender, unctuous meat bathed in rich cooking juices is something very special. Served with a roasting juices mint sauce, buttery mash & seasonal brassicas it's the perfect one pot roast.

Butterflied Leg Joint: A mid priced cut, easier to manipulate & carve to the more traditional bone in leg of lamb, i particularly like this rubbed with seasonal herbs & spices before roasting in a hot oven or on the BBQ, its simple to roast & easy to carve & really big on flavour, it has a rich, sweet caramel flavour when roasted on the fat, this makes for a really pleasing family roast, served alongside Boulangère potatoes & tender green beans tossed with butter, chopped shallot & hazelnuts.

Loin boned & Rolled: A truly spectacular joint, this is a more expensive cut, served for a special occasion, this super tender joint is easy to carve, traditionally served in high class restaurants it's a very consistent roast with tender, unctuous meat & a good covering of fat sealing in the juices as it roasts, the perfect roasting joint served with aromatic rosemary sauce, redcurrant jelly & a potato gratin..

How to know to check if you’re Lamb is done:

Testing with your finger

The best way is to press the thickest part of the joint with your index finger, if the joint is soft to touch it will be rare, the more firm to the touch the more well done the joint wil be cooked.

Test with a thermometer

Ensure your thermometer is very clean before probing, simply dip the needle into boiling water for 5 seconds before & after immersing in the joint. Pierce the needle into the centre of the joint & hold for a few seconds, the temperature should read a minimum of 50°C before removing from the oven.

Test with tongs

You can test for doneness with tongs. Gently prod the roast - rare is very soft, medium rare is soft, medium is springy but soft, medium well is firm and well done is very firm.