If concrete proof were still needed to show that it really is spring, then it came this morning from two quite different sources – and both of them with an irritant factor.
First, it was apparently mild enough that the residents of a flat over the road felt that they could open their door and share their music with half the rest of the street.
I don’t know how their neighbours cope – I’ve suggested to one who I know that they should get onto the council quickly, but an attitude seems to exist that there’s no point. Well there certainly isn’t if you don’t make even the smallest effort.
The second thing was the rain: a steady drizzle on a grey day, but one that still felt different to winter’s precipitation.
So what food could be better for such a Sunday than a roast? And I’ve finally managed to find a recipe for a really long-slow one – in this case, a shoulder of lamb, as described by Raymond Blanc in Kitchen Secrets.
Lamb may well be my favourite meat, and shoulder is a cut I like and have been roasting quite happily for some time, usually with olive oil, a couple of sprigs of rosemary and slivers of garlic slipped into the flesh, cooked for approximately an hour and a half, with par-boiled small potatoes added 15 minutes from time, together with halved artichoke hearts and a tin of cannellini beans.
But as I’ve tried more of Blanc’s recipes, it’s clear that little tweaks can really make a difference to a dish, even when you didn’t think there was room for much improvement.
With that in mind, the meat sat on a tray for an hour, having been lightly scored over the skin and a mix of finely chopped sage leaves (just three), rosemary leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil having then been rubbed in.
Otto was confused and wanted to know why pungent green stuff has been put on glorious smelling meat. It has the added advantage of keeping her nose at a distance as the meat comes properly to room temperature and absorbs the flavours of the rub.
The next stage involved lamb bones (my butcher on the market yesterday gave me a lovely bag of them), browned in oil on the hob in a roasting tin for around seven to 10 minutes, with another three minutes after that as a bulb of garlic, halved horizontally through the middle, joined them.
Then you balance the shoulder on top and give it 20 minutes at 230˚C (fan oven temperature). Pull it out, skim the fat and turn the oven down to 150˚C.
In the meantime, some white wine goes into a pan and is boiled for just 30 seconds. With a few sprigs of thyme and some hot water, this is added to the roasting tin, which is covered loosely with foil.
Then it’s roasted for however long the size of meat needs, and basted every 30 minutes or so. The bones act as a rack to keep the meat off the surface of the roasting tin, but they also help to flavour the liquid, leaving you with a lovely jus at the end.
By the time the meat was half way through its initial roast, the smell in the flat was simply wonderful. The aroma of cooking really makes a home. Together with cats, I’ve been reminded by Otto, who is sitting on the desk, paying exceptionally careful attention to the words appearing on screen.
My sous chef and my editor, it appears.
Once it’s underway, it makes for a very easy dinner.
On the side, I took thickly sliced carrot and whole shallots and sautéed them briefly in a little duck fat before lidding the pan and leaving it for around 40 minutes. About 10 minutes from time, as the meat was resting, small potatoes were added (I cheated – they were from a tin, drained and dried).
A fat separator comes in really handy at moments like this, and made light work of stripping most of the fat out of the jus, which was then brought back to a good heat and checked for seasoning before being decanted into a jug (memo to self: a Pyrex measuring jug is not a sauce or gravy boat and doesn’t look right on the table).
All in all, though, very tasty. The lamb was cooked through perfectly; moist and tasty, and the jus made a really nice compliment – a little bitter, but that works well against the sweetness of the meat.
It was a lovely, deep brown colour too, which reminded me of my mother’s gravy making, which usually involved adding browning from a bottle to the fat in the roasting tin, before flour was stirred in. That was another of my little chores in the kitchen.
So, it most certainly passed the taste test – and for a Sunday roast, was also a delightfully easy prep and cook. There really is nothing like a roast at this time of year; a nice peak to the weekend's food and perhaps the ultimate British social dish.