It's such a lovely time of year, especially on a breezy, warm day up here on the Pennines, with the clouds whizzing past at a fair old lick.
Everything’s sprouting into life below the ever-intensifying sun. My herb patch, bare and depressing during the winter, is now rapidly filling with green shoots and leaves. The sorrel’s ready to pick already – big green leaves packed with acidic, citrussy flavour. In a few weeks the lovage will be ready to harvest – I can’t wait to get its unusual, pungent flavour into soups and sauces.
The sage bush is pushing out some enormous leaves, which will be wrapped around chicken with a little Parma ham to be flame-grilled
with lemon juice as a sort-of saltimbocca – we may come back to this recipe later in the summer. Despite the paucity of many fruits and vegetables at this time of year, a phenomenon I mentioned a few articles ago, there’s still enough on offer to keep us interested, and two of these ingredients could simply not be any better than they are right now. It’s the foodie
equivalent of a Perfect Storm. There are only a few times in the culinary calendar where several ingredients hit their absolute prime all at once, but at this time of year, you can’t get better than the first joints of spring lamb and the Jersey Royal potato.
Spring lamb can usually be found from February into June, and where it lacks in flavour (older lamb and mutton is where you go for that big, bold taste) it makes up for it with wonderful succulent tenderness. One must be careful not to overpower spring lamb – it’s certainly not one for the tikka rubs or Moroccan spices. Best to pair it with springtime vegetables and leaves, light sauces, and delicate seasonings with gentle herbs.
The Jersey Royal potato is also right at its flavoursome peak, and from what I’ve tasted, this year’s crop is better than many in recent years. Grown all over the world, the International Kidney variety of new potato is an unassuming little thing, just getting on with being a basic salad potato.
But when cultivated in Jersey, with its light soil and ideal climate, it magically becomes regal. About 20 farmers grow these potatoes, using seaweed as compost, which, along with the minerally soil, boosts the flavour and gives the JR its wonderful papery skin. They are truly delicious, and a pleasure to enjoy during their brief peak season in May. They’re so good they’ve been granted the famous PDO status by the European Union, ensuring their own identity and quality assurance. And they couldn’t appear at a better time for pairing with that juicy spring lamb. Nature has been kind to us cooks on this occasion!
a minimum of fuss
The combination of lamb and potatoes is invariably paired with peas, and I see no reason why we should break up this delightful trinity. The freshness of peas marries so well with the juicy, sweet lamb and the rich creaminess of the Jersey Royals. They’re not my favourite vegetable – too many memories of whiffy overcooked school peas I’m afraid – but when cooked quickly and with a minimum of fuss, they can be delightful, especially with lamb.
So I decided to make up a batch of my favourite pea dish, petits-pois à la Française.
This dish of peas simmered in cream with fresh lettuce, a little bacon and onion is almost a supper dish in itself, but absolutely knockout with this tender, slow-cooked lamb and simply-cooked Jersey Royals; a delightful, and perfectly-timed springtime supper.
FOR THE LAMB:
1 medium shoulder of good local lamb
A little Extra-Virgin olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme
A sprig of fresh rosemary
About 500ml lamb or chicken stock
Maldon salt & freshly-ground black pepper
FOR THE PETITS-POIS:
500g frozen petits-pois
100g pancetta or diced streaky bacon
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 gem lettuce
3-400ml double cream
Maldon salt & freshly-ground black pepper
1 kg Jersey Royal potatoes
First, set the lamb to cook. Season the shoulder well with salt and pepper. Set the oven to 160ºC / Gas 6.
Heat a good splash of the oil in adeep casserole pan and sweat the onions and garlic for about half an hour over gentle heat, until they are soft and translucent. Add the stock and fresh herbs.
In a frying pan, brown the lamb shoulder all over to give a nice deep colour to the finished dish. Place the lamb on top of the onions and cover with the lid.
Bake the lamb for about 4 hours, or until juicily tender.
s the lamb approaches readiness, prepare the peas. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the diced onion.
Stir and cook gently, covered, until the onion is soft and translucent. Remove the cooked onion from the pan, turn up the heat and add the pancetta.
Sizzle until golden and crisp, then add the onions back to the pan, along with the cream, and heat to a gently rolling boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer, and add the frozen peas. S
immer until the peas are just cooked, then quickly shred the gem lettuce and toss into the pan. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
To prepare the potatoes, simply boil in plenty of well-salted water and drain when tender.
To serve, carve pieces of the tender lamb shoulder over some sliced or lightly-crushed Jersey Royals, and spoon plenty of petits-pois alongside.