If you’ve read the post just before this one about sustainable lamb farming, you’ll know that I sometimes buy the lamb farmed by the Northmoor Trust at our local farmers market in Oxford (see their picturesque location above). The first time I bought their lamb I bought a pack with 2 rolled breasts of lamb in it; it was both a bargain and an item of complete foodie curiosity. It looked a bit like an over-sized, fat-streaked, rolled pinwheel of bacon, cut to a 2 cm thickness rather than the usual few millimetres. I left the market very happy that I would be able to put it to good use with a bit of help from Google and a few cookbooks, and while I’m not really into pigs ears and those sorts of things, it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling to be using a cut that might otherwise have been overlooked.
So, on to the day of the cooking of the lamb. What did Google have to say for itself? Not much really is the answer. I thought Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would be the man to search for, him being a champion of cheap and lesser known cuts of meat. I did find his recipe for breast of lamb Ste Ménéhould, apparently a recipe from The River Cottage Meat Book, but it sounded very complicated (cooking on one day, resting overnight under jam jars and then coating in breadcrumbs and cooking again the next day). The other sites were a real mixed bag and bought up more questions than they answered. Did it matter that I have breast of lamb rather than breast of mutton? Could I use a recipe for bone-in lamb when mine has been deboned? Most importantly, what do you do when you want to cook and eat on the same day? The only recurring theme seemed to be that stuffing was the way to go if you had a piece of boned breast meat.
And the cookbooks? I have a lot of cookbooks, so I was quite upset with the lot of them that only one that came up with a suggestion for using lamb breast. That gold star goes to Tamasin Day Lewis’ from her Good Tempered Food. She has a recipe for Grillade of Breast of Lamb, more of a dinner party dish with anchovies and red wine vinegar, but again it was one of those recipes that you have to make across several days.
Anyway, it was all so confusing that I decided to make something up and keep my fingers crossed that it would all work out for the best. There were a lot of sites that mentioned that this was a fairly fatty cut of meat so a stuffing with spring-inspired flavours like fruit, citrus and rosemary sounded like it might work. Slow cooking also seemed to be the order of the day and so a steady roasting with a little white wine to keep the meat moist also sounded worth a try.
The end result turned out pretty well so I’ve posted it here ready for the next person who blithely buys a breast of lamb then realises that they have no idea what to do with it! The meat is full flavoured and kept moist by the wine while the lemon peel and dried fruit in the stuffing lighten what might otherwise be a little rich and heavy. This is a fatty cut of meat though so it does require a bit of attention as you eat it to cut the biggest bits of fat away (or to pick the pieces up and chew all of the nuggets of meat out from around the fat). A lot of the fat is on the inside of the roll so it doesn’t all go attractively brown and chewy which saved me from just eating the lot. Mind you, it’s horses for courses on this bit; my other half had a pretty much empty plate at the end of it all. Perhaps not the healthiest thing to have for Sunday lunch every week then.
I haven’t tested this theory but I like to think that much of the flavour was a result of using well treated lamb reared in a very natural environment. Breast of lamb is a very cheap cut so this is a great opportunity to buy organic if you don’t normally, or to find out about a local farmer who rears his sheep in a sustainable way that is animal and environmentally mindful. For anybody who likes to know these things, I did have a look into the nutritional composition of this cut in comparison with others. The meat from roasted breast of lamb contains 18.5g of fat per 100g, or 29.9g if you eat both the fat and the lean. In comparison roast leg of lamb contains about 9.4g of fat per 100g of meat or 14.2g for both the fat and the lean.
Recipe for a Spring Breast of Lamb Recipe with Lemon and Rosemary
A note about quantities before you start. I get the impression that each breast of lamb varies in weight and fat content which is why I have given the weight of the lamb I used here. The recipe below would feed three comfortably. The recipe makes slightly more stuffing than you need so you can buy slightly bigger pieces of lamb or another small breast without having to increase the amount of stuffing that you make.
2 boned pieces of breast of lamb (about 650g in total)
200ml White wine
For the stuffing
1 and half slices of wholegrain bread
2 cloves of garlic
1 large sprig of rosemary
1 tbsp dried cranberries or cherries
1 tbsp sultanas
To hold it all together
About thirty minutes before you want to start preparing, soak the dried fruit in freshly boiled water.
When you are ready to cook, put the oven on at about 160 C, 325 F, Gas mark 3.
With a small food processor (or a lot of chopping), blitz up the garlic and breadcrumbs. Add the rosemary leaves and blitz again briefly.
Drain the dried fruit and add it to the breadcrumb mixture. Grate the zest of the lemon in and then cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice from one half only. Season the stuffing with a little salt and plenty of pepper and stir.
Lay the lamb breasts out flat on a chopping board and place a good dollop of stuffing across one of the narrow ends of the meat (as much as you think you can get away with without it all falling out of the sides). Roll the meat very carefully round the stuffing and tie it securely with a couple of pieces of string.
Put a tiny bit of olive oil in a heavy oven-proof pan that has a lid. Fry the rolled up piece of lamb in the oil for about five minutes in total, until each side is lightly browned. Pour in the wine, put on the lid and transfer to a hot oven for an hour or so.