Roast Lamb in Herbs
By: Alex BarkerRecently I had the most delicious treat of some very rare Hebridean Lamb. The Hebridean breed, also known as St Kilda, originated off the West Coast of Scotland, where they enjoyed the freedom to roam highland, lowland and seaside at leisure. They were at one time common throughout Scotland, until market forces found them to be too small and they were superseded by the Blackface. They are small sheep with striking black, soft fleece and often four or more horns. Although they are no longer classified as a rare breed, there are only limited flocks still being farmed.
Hebridean lambs are grown on to about one year or just over before being ready for market. When butchered they are about 12–15kg and are hung for up to 7 days. The meat from Hebridean sheep is unique. It has a rich, dark colour, succulent tender texture, and a gamey, utterly delicious flavour. Added to that, it offers health advantages over other well-known breeds of sheep – the meat is very lean, and recent tests have shown that it has a significantly lower cholesterol level.
I put our lamb to the test one Sunday lunchtime with a table of all ages. Tasted against locally produced butcher's lamb and some very good Welsh lamb, there was no contest: the Hebridean won hands down. It was tender with a really good bite, and rich but didn't leave that greasy, fatty taste in the mouth. And it was so full of flavour that some of the young tasters couldn't believe it really was lamb.
Thankfully, breeds like the Hebridean are gradually becoming more available to small numbers of consumers. As a bonus to their fantastic eating qualities, they bring vital conservation advantages to farmers who care about their land. Hebridean sheep love to browse through bad roughage eating such weeds as ragwort. Clearing closely cropped grass helps clover to grow, and the heather on moorlands that have been heavily cropped by other breeds of sheep over decades has a chance to thrive again.
Many fine because rare breeds are now being protected, not just for posterity but also because they have their own unique qualities to offer to both the consumer and the conservationist.
For information on Borland Hebridean Lamb or to place an order: visit www.foodzone.co.uk, phone Alex Barker (07973 121648) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I always enjoyed John Tovey's Lakeland Lamb in Hay. This recipe is similar, but you don't need to go in search of the hay!
1 leg Hebridean lamb
Large bunch mixed fresh herbs (coriander, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, thyme and lovage, for instance)
2–3 cloves peeled garlic
A little light olive oil
5ml (1 tsp) each rock salt, coriander seed
2.5ml (½ tsp) black peppercorns
1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas Mark 6. Place about half the herbs in a pile in a roasting tin with the garlic.
2. Rub the lamb with the oil. Roughly crush the seasonings together and spread over the surface of the lamb. Place the lamb on the herb bed and pour the water into the tin.
3. Roast the lamb for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180ºC/350ºF/gas Mark 4 for another 30 minutes. Cover with foil tightly and continue cooking for another 1½–2 hours or until really tender, and not pink. Remove the foil for the last 20 minutes if you wish to brown and crisp up the skin again.
4. Serve the lamb surrounded with the rest of the fresh herbs, and simply reduce the liquor in the roasting tin with a little red wine to taste.
© Recipe copyright 2004 Alex Barker