or, The Pre-Shepherds Pie
…because this is another set of meals that starts with a cheap cut of meat, too big for two, and ends up with a couple of different spinoff meals made from the leftovers.
The first meal is a meltingly soft roast lamb, where beneath a thin layer of crackling, the meat falls into tender shreds at the touch of a fork. It’s cooked low and slow with some aromatics and liquid, but still retains the characteristic sweet flavour of lamb, and this method makes lashings of savoury dark gravy to eat it with.
In terms of my low ceilings (lack of time, money and expertise) this is an easy meal, made with one of the cheapest cuts of lamb – but it does take a long time in the oven, although only about 10-20 mins actual preparation time. Lamb seems to have increased in price by more than beef, pork and chicken over the last year or so, and so we don’t buy it often, but when we do it’s normally half a shoulder (blade side rather than shank side, for easier carving) or a whole shoulder which would feed about 8 people as a Sunday roast. The nicest lamb I’ve found is at the local butcher in Penrith, Lake District, but back in Islington this is the kind of occasional purchase I would rather make from the fancy butcher, where it is £13.98/kg for a free range grass fed lamb (about half this price at the supermarket). For no particularly rational reason, if I’m going to be partaking of the bone marrow as a cook’s treat (and there is a lovely nugget of it in this cut), I’d rather buy from the butcher. But the supermarket lamb also works brilliantly here – I’ve made it with frozen lamb from Lidl and the results have still been delicious. This week we cooked a whole shoulder which made:
- this meal for two
- a shepherds’ pie for a family of 6 (but one is a newborn who did not eat) where I’m told that two of the children had thirds
- a moussaka for two.
Recipe: Slow Roast Shoulder of Lamb
Serves 2, with leftovers for Shepherd’s pie for 2.
This is not really a recipe – more a method. I’ve put a range of times/temperatures depending on how much time you have – my oven can turn itself off automatically, so I’ve made this overnight or whilst we’re at work, but before, I used to adjust the temperature to fit my schedule. There’s lots of flexibility with the ingredients – the basic components are the meat, an aromatic element and liquid with some acidity. I used carrots, onion and garlic as the aromatic, but celery, fennel, herbs would also be good additions. The liquid can be chicken/vegetable stock, but half water and wine, or tinned tomato would be good as well. If using stock, I think you need a bit of acid; I like the dark sweet complex charm of balsamic vinegar.
Half shoulder of lamb (about 1kg), blade side if possible
2 large white onions
3 cloves of garlic
100ml chicken or vegetable stock
2Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 230°C.
1. Peel and finely dice the onions, carrot and garlic cloves and place in an even layer in an ovenproof lidded casserole (or roasting tin, but be prepared to double cover it with foil later)
2. Score parallel lines across the fat of the lamb (using a sharp knife) and nestle it in the vegetables. Make sure the surface is dry, and give it a generous grinding of salt and pepper
3. Place the casserole in the oven for around 20mins to get some colour on the lamb – the edges at least should be browning
4. Remove from the oven, and add the stock and vinegar (or other liquid). Turn down the heat (see table below) and cover the casserole dish before replacing in the oven for the corresponding time
3 hours 160°C
5 hours 140°C
7 hours 120°C
5. Remove from the oven and check that the lamb is done – when you stick a fork or knife into it, the meat should offer very little resistance. Carefully lift the lamb onto a board (removing the thin layer of crispy skin – cook’s treat!) and cover with foil for 15 mins, during which you can prepare some peas or other vegetables, warm the plates, and prepare some gravy. The lamb will have given off lots of liquid, which is mostly fat – either try and skim this off from the pan, or else pour the liquid into a small measuring jug (the narrower the diameter, the thicker the layer of fat and the easier it is to remove). Reserve the cooked aromatics for the shepherds pie.
6. Shred the lamb with two forks – or separate the large sections of meat from the bone, and slice with a sharp knife against the grain – the whole thing will collapse as you go. Serve with gravy, peas and (thinking ahead to our leftover meal!) mashed potatoes.
A note on potatoes:
For a household of two, I find that potatoes rarely make sense, since they are sold in multi-kilogram bags but perish after about a week at the most. For this meal, we made a whole bag’s worth of mashed potatoes, which was just right for two generous portions on the day we cooked the lamb, and the topping for the shepherd’s pie a day later.
“Recipe”: Mashed Potatoes
500g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
100ml Milk (or cream, or sour cream etc.)
1. Boil potatoes in salted water (from the kettle) on a medium-high heat until soft, about 20 mins, then drain (I sometimes keep the starchy water if I know I’m going to be making bread…another story!)
2. Add milk (or cream/sour cream if you have any that needs using up – I used about 75ml sour cream) and butter, in slices, and mash in the pan
3. Grind over Maldon salt and black pepper to taste. Lovely.
Ringing the changes:
1. The Traditional Sunday Lunch: Rather than roasting the carrots in small cubes, cut them into diagonal chunks. Crisp the lamb up at the end and serve with mint sauce and roast potatoes instead of mashed potatoes, with the carrots and onions on the side.
2. Middle Eastern Influenced Lamb with Jewelled Couscous: Instead of (or as well as) carrots, roast small cubes of butternut squash with the onions. Season the lamb with cumin and cinnamon as well as salt and pepper, and roast with half as much liquid – just enough to stop the dish drying out. Make couscous according to packet directions, plus a handful of currants/sultanas to steam and plump up in the heat, and then mix the cooked couscous with the roasted vegetable cubes, finely sliced spring onion and coriander, and pomegranate seeds.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways this would work too – as part of a mezze meal with flatbreads, tzatziki, roasted peppers and aubergines, with houmous on the side…?