Roast lamb is a magnificent thing. The complex flavour is bold yet delicate, the texture is a study in contrasts between the crisp, flavourful exterior and the tender, juicy interior, and the heady aroma is tantalisingly good as you wait impatiently to tuck in whilst your joint is in the oven. It never ceases to amaze me how something so simple can be so good….a leg of sweet spring lamb, a couple of garlic cloves, a sprig of fresh thyme, a splash of white wine and little drizzle of olive oil and seasoning. 90 minutes in the oven at 150 degrees and job done.
The Spanish are justifiably proud of their lamb and early spring is without doubt the best time to enjoy it. The taste is sweeter and more refined at this time of year, before the hot weather arrives and the lambs start to suffer, like the rest of us, and sweat in the heat. The local Spanish breeds are small and sturdy animals and lend themselves perfectly to the long slow cooking favoured by the local restaurants throughout most of Spain, especially the provinces of Castilla-León and Burgos.
Cordero lechal, which is basically milk-fed lamb, is most commonly served in the form of “costillas” (ribs) or Palatillas (shoulders) and Piernas (whole legs). They are normally served in whole pieces, roasted over rosemary sticks and garlic cloves in a slow oven for a long period of time until tender.
Many traditional, regional recipes exist and one of the most popular is“Cordero a la Segoviana”. A whole side of young lamb is rubbed with salt and oregano. Placed in a large “cazuela” (earthenware dish) and smothered in pork fat. Crushed garlic cloves, chopped onions and parsley are added together with a small glass of water, another of white wine and a couple of crushed peppercorns then marinated for 2-3 hours before being roasted in a moderate oven for 1-2 hours. “Cordero a la Sevillana” is diced lamb fried with mushrooms, garlic and parsley before being finished with white wine and dry sherry. One and my favourite lamb dishes is “cordero a la riojana”. This is a delicious warming stew with potatoes, red peppers, chorizo sausage and white wine from the rioja region.“Cordero al chilindron”, also from the Rioja and Aragon regions of the north and is flavoured with garlic and a dried red pepper called “Choricero” that needs to be first, soaked in water for a few hours so that the pulp can be scraped away from the skin. Choricero pepper puree can be bought in small jars in all Spanish supermarkets making it easy to use but if you can’t find them use a couple of teaspoons of paprika.
POT-ROASTED SHOULDER OF LAMB“A LA CATALANA”
Ingredients: serves 4
2 shoulders of lamb
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
50ml olive oil
250ml dry white wine
100ml chicken stock
2 pomegranates, juice and seeds only
400ml chopped plum tomatoes
2tbsp. Chopped parsley
Dust the shoulders lightly with flour and seasoning.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Brown the shoulders on both sides and remove from the pan. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and add the onions, garlic and leeks. Cook over a gentle heat until they start to soften. Add the chopped tomatoes, return the shoulders to the pan and pour over the chicken stock. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook slowly over a gentle heat for 25 minutes. Add the pomegranate seeds and juice and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Add chopped parsley, season to taste and serve with boiled rice.