Spring lamb is a treat, albeit an expensive one, and in my home it is the centrepiece of Easter Sunday lunch. If it is spring lamb with its mild, sweet flavour that you want, make sure to stress the word 'spring' to your butcher.
Give plenty of notice with your order out of consideration to your butcher and you will be rewarded for your forward thinking. These lambs are born before or around Christmas, mainly milk fed with a little clover pasture to boot, and are ready for the Easter table.
In my opinion it needs nothing added to its thin skin other than salt and pepper to make it into one of the most memorable meals of the year. The spices and stronger herbs associated with lamb are more appropriate with the stronger-tasting meat later in the year.
The most traditional and still one of the best accompaniments for the meat is a classic thin mint sauce, but here I am suggesting a light mint-flavoured hollandaise sauce, which enhances rather than overpowers the flavour of the meat.
- 1 x 2.7kg leg of spring lamb
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 500ml chicken stock
- 20g butter
Mint Hollandaise Sauce
This classic sauce still has its place in my kitchen. All you need are good eggs and butter and a little lemon juice to sharpen and you have one of the most useful and delicious of sauces for serving with fish, fine vegetables such as asparagus and sea kale and in this case with mild spring lamb.
I always chop the mint just before adding it to the sauce at the last minute. If you chop the mint ahead of time and allow it to sit at room temperature or in the fridge, it will oxidise and become bitter.
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon water
- 100g butter, cut into 1cm dice
- 2 teaspoons
- lemon juice
- 1–2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves (chop just before adding to the sauce
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Put the lamb in a roasting tin and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 1 hour 10 minutes for pink, 1 hour 20 minutes for medium or 1 hour 30 minutes for well done. Baste the meat with the small amount of fat and cooking juices that gather on the bottom of the roasting tin several times during the cooking.
- Remove the lamb from the oven and reduce the temperature to 100°C. Return the lamb to the warm oven on a platter to rest for at least 15 minutes.
- While the lamb is resting, make the gravy. Degrease the roasting tray by pouring the liquid into a Pyrex jug, then place the jug in the freezer. Some of the meat juices will be mixed with fat, and as it sits and chills, the fat will rise to the surface and the dark-coloured juices will be visible at the bottom. The fat can be removed and discarded and these juices can be added to the gravy later.
- Place the roasting tin on a low heat and pour in the chicken stock to deglaze the tin. Whisk vigorously to encourage the caramelised meat juices on the bottom of the roasting tin to dissolve into the stock. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and bring up to a simmer.
- Strain the gravy through a sieve into a small saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Lift the fat off the chilled meat juices and add the juices to the gravy. Taste to check the flavour. If it tastes a little light, allow it to continue simmering for a few minutes longer so that it reduces and concentrates the flavour. You will have less gravy, but more flavour.
- Taste again and if you are happy with it now, add the butter and gently whisk it into the sauce at a simmer. As soon as the butter has all been incorporated, remove the gravy from the heat for reheating when needed.
- Serve the lamb on a hot platter with the bubbling hot gravy, spring vegetables and boiled new potatoes and pass the mint hollandaise sauce separately.
Mint Hollandaise Sauce
- Put the egg yolks and water in a small low-sided heavy-bottomed saucepan and whisk well. Put on a low heat and add the butter three or four cubes at a time. Whisk continuously and the butter will gradually melt and emulsify into the egg yolks and start forming a sauce.
- Continue whisking and adding the butter when the previous additions have melted in. Your only enemy here is too much heat, so keep the heat gentle and if necessary slip the saucepan off the heat occasionally if you think it is getting too hot. Too much heat will scramble the eggs. The side of the saucepan should never at any stage of the cooking be too hot for you to touch it quickly with your bare fingers.
- If the sauce shows signs of scrambling, add 1 dessertspoon of cold water and keep whisking. When all the butter has been added, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.
- Decant the sauce into a sauceboat and place it in a saucepan of warm tap water, not on the heat. The sauce, which is served warm rather than hot, will keep perfectly for 1 hour.
If you find it has cooled too much on you, replace the water in the saucepan with hand-hot water and stir 1 dessertspoon of warm water into the sauce.
Just before you are ready to serve, stir the mint into the hollandaise sauce.