A butcher, farmer and chef come together to tell us why we should be eating lamb this week, as it enters into peak season.
September 1 to 7 marks Love Lamb Week – a time to encourage people to cook the meat more often at home, no matter their skills in the kitchen.
A versatile meat, it can be used as a substitute for beef in casseroles, in pasta dishes and even in the starring role of your Sunday roast.
To highlight the fact it’s in season, how easy it is to cook and the versatility of the meat, we spoke to a butcher, a farmer and a chef to get some top tips on how we can best incorporate lamb into our diet over these next few weeks.
Butcher – Jock Gibson, Macbeth’s
Owner and manager at Macbeth’s butchers in Forres, Jock Gibson, says that new season lamb is a lot easier to cook than you might think.
“When we’re talking about lamb and, at the moment, we’re talking about new season lamb, so you’ll get an almost sweet taste to it. It’s very tender but it hasn’t necessarily got a really full flavour that maybe mutton or hogget has.
“New season lamb is a bit milder. If people aren’t sure whether they like lamb, now is a really good time to try it. It doesn’t have that really strong flavour that people maybe associate with older lamb. And you can get some really simple cuts as well.
“The older the animal is, the more time the meat has had to mature and the more character you get in the meat.
“The likes of lamb leg steaks are pretty economical, they eat really well, they’re easy to cook and they’re quick as well. When people don’t have a huge amount of time to be cooking, they’re quite a good option – three or four minutes on each side and you’re done.
“If you’ve never cooked with lamb before, a lamb leg steak is also what I would recommend starting with – you’d cook it almost in the same way as a beef steak. You might not want to have it quite so rare. Like beef, it doesn’t matter if lamb is slightly pink in the middle.
“I understand that people prefer things to be well done but if you have it pink in the middle and then allow it to rest, which is really key once you’ve cooked it, you get much more flavour and tenderness through the meat that you might not get if you overcook it because it then dries out, gets a bit tough and a bit chewy, and just doesn’t keep that same succulence and flavour than if you cooked it, say, medium-rare.
“You can team it with flavours like mint and other accompaniments like couscous and pomegranate. There’s no reason why you can’t do things like lamb stir-fry, for example.
“Scotch Lamb is a very environmentally-sound meat to be eating, they’re not high methane emitters and the land they’re raised on isn’t used for anything else.”
Farmer – Michelle Stephen
Michelle Stephen runs a farm near Udny in Aberdeenshire and says that farmers are really proud to be providing Scotch Lamb during its peak season.
“Lamb is good all year round, it’s just especially good this time of year, from July to November, as it’s new season lamb, meaning they’re fed off of fresh grass. However, over Easter time it’s often tradition to have a lamb dish, but by then lambs aren’t normally grass-fed. It’s normally got a lot more grain in its diet.
“There shouldn’t be any difference in taste depending on where in Scotland the lambs are reared. Some people say that with different breeds of lamb, you might get different marbling through it but the flavour shouldn’t be affected.
“I was recently on the Good Food Guys [on BBC Scotland] with Nick Nairn and Dougie Vipond and the other guest was farmer comedian Jim Smith. We had a rack of lamb there and Nick Nairn had cooked it amazingly. There was something that Jim said that kind of resonated with me – that that bit of lamb makes it so worth getting up at three o’clock in the morning to go and lamb a ewe.
“I think farmers are so proud to produce Scotch Lamb and when they get a nice bit of it, it does make it so worthwhile getting up in the middle of the night. Knowing that we have produced them and that they’ve lived high-quality lives is so satisfying. We’re audited by Quality Meat Scotland on the farm so we have high welfare standards and I’m so proud to be able to produce Scotch Lamb.”
Cook – Stephen Ralston, Aizle Edinburgh
Meanwhile, Stephen Ralston, a chef and owner of Aizle restaurant in Edinburgh’s prestigious Charlotte Square, recommends buying lamb in September when it’s at peak season.
“If anyone wanted to start cooking lamb, I’d recommend two things – lamb chops or lamb loin. Both of them are fairly straightforward as they’ve not got a lot of complex muscle structure.
“So, in terms of cooking lamb, you don’t have to know too much about cooking in general. Lamb chops just need a sear on both sides then a minute or two in the oven and it’s pretty much cooked if you like them medium-rare. Then lamb loin is easy to just seal in a pan, pop in the oven for six or seven minutes, rest it for another five minutes and it’s pretty good to go.
“I would say that when lamb first comes into season, you sort of want to wait a little bit as you’ll find the prices are always a little bit high at first during the peak demand. We quite often use hogget – lamb aged between one and two years old. July is a good time to start eating lamb, with the season starting to fully kick in by September.
“Anything in season is going to be at its best, even though it’s in the shops all year round you don’t know where it’s come from when it’s out of season. Lamb in Scotland is a huge industry so once the farmers have spent the money on it, once it comes to market they need to see that return in a business sense, so it’s realistically closing that circle for them.
“Lamb is one of my favourite meats – we have it on the restaurant menu a lot and if it’s not there then it’s hogget. The main thing is to give it a go.”
Scotch Lamb Dhansak with mint kefir – from The Scotch Kitchen
Preparation time: 30 minutes / Cooking time: 2 hours
- 400g boneless Scotch Lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon Scottish rapeseed oil
- 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 70g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- 3 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
- 30g tomato purée
- 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
- 700ml water
- 200ml reduced-fat coconut milk
- 150g dried red lentils
- 50g chana dal lentils (or can be substituted for red lentils)
- Large handful freshly chopped coriander
- Juice of 2 limes
For the mint kefir:
- 200ml kefir (can be substituted for low-fat yoghurt)
- A small handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 small plain naan bread
- For the Scotch lamb dhansak, heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the onions, garlic and ginger until soft and lightly coloured.
- Add the spices and chilli. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the lamb, stirring to coat well with the spices. Cook for 4-5 until brown. Add the tomato purée and cook for a further minute.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, 200ml water and the coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1hr 15 minutes.
- Add the lentils and the remaining water. Cook for a further 30 minutes. As the lentils cook they will absorb the liquid. If the mixture looks too dry add a little more water. The curry is ready when the lentils are soft and the lamb is tender and soft.
- Remove the whole cinnamon stick and garnish with the coriander and lime.
- For the mint kefir, whizz together the kefir and mint, in a blender or food processor.
- Divide the curry between the serving bowls. Place the naans and kefir in the middle of the table to share and serve.
Tip: For additional heat, retain the chilli seeds in the fresh chillies.
For more lamb recipes and serving suggestions visit www.scotchkitchen.com