Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roast Spiced Shoulder of Lamb and Parsnip & Spring Onion Pudding

Bank Holiday weekend and you can be sure it won't be hot and sunny. It is undoubtedly gettting better very (very) slowly but I'm not in any rush to break out the flouncy skirts and flip flops just yet. The pleasure of three days at home getting stuff done, seeing a movie, going for long walks, planting out the herb garden in preparation for spring is lovely. Decided to have one slightly complicated dinner Saturday night then an easy day Sunday with options for Monday depending on how things panned out.

Spring, holidays, lamb - it all seemed to go together. Before I started shopping at Borough Market shoulder of lamb was not a cut that I was enamoured by. The stuff from supermarkets tends to be very tough and very fatty and greasy. Generally nasty. From well raised animals it is a well flavoured meat with firm flesh and little fat or sinew. It will always need a little more preparation than a leg but you will be well rewarded.

I had ripped a recipe out of the Guardian for spiced shoulder of lamb from the Michelin starred chef Shaun Hill. I decided to go with his accompaniment of parsnip and spring onion pudding. New season lamb is in the market now but I find that aged is better. I had half a shoulder from an older beast in the freezer - and that was my starting point. The spiced lamb is wonderful - from the sensual pleasure of rubbing the mix into the flesh then wrapping it in cling film to marinate right through to the eating. Cooked slowly, the spice rub blackens on the skin and the base of the pan creating a lovely gooey sticky finish to the meat and the perfect base for a sauce to serve with it. I had expected it to be good and it was better than that.

But the real revelation was the parsnips. Pureeing them when cooked makes them silky smooth but they are saved from blandness by the spicing and, especially, the spring onions. They add texture and crunch and a contrasting flavour. I made it in a single pan but they could easily be made in individaul ramekins for a more glamourous presentation. With new potatoes and buttered courgettes this was a great supper.

Spiced shoulder of lamb
½ red pepper
1 small red chilli
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp saffron threads
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large half shoulder or small shoulder of lamb
Salt and black pepper

Chop the pepper, chilli, garlic, mint and spices together until almost a pulp - it's easier if you use the flat of the knife to crush everything first. Stir in the oil, then rub this mixture on to the meat and season. Wrap the shoulder in clingfilm and leave to marinate for a few hours in the fridge. Roast in a moderately hot oven (180C/350F/gas mark 4) until done the way you want. I prefer shoulder more well cooked than leg or rack. Once the meat is resting on the carving board, add a tumbler of water to the pan and bring to the boil. The strained juices and burnt-on bits of spice will be all the sauce you need.

Parsnip and spring onion pudding

The advantage to this variation of mashed parsnips is that it can be made in advance and baked as needed. Carrots can substitute and even be used along with the parsnip, provided they are boiled separately, as they will take longer to soften.

600g/21oz parsnips, peeled
Salt and nutmeg
1 egg
25g/scant ounce butter
1 small bunch spring onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cut the parsnips into smallish, evenly sized pieces - cut out and discard any tough or woody parts from the bases. Boil in salted water until tender, then drain. Season with salt and nutmeg. Blend in a food processor, together with the egg and the butter. Stir in the spring onions and spoon into an ovenproof dish. Bake until set - around 20 minutes - and serve hot.

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