It is only later in April that spring lamb becomes more widely available. There may have been some for Easter but, as Jon has mentioned, leaving it until a bit later in the season is a sensible option. From the cook’s point of view, it is the delicacy of spring lamb that we want to enjoy; the meat is paler and has a sweeter flavour than when it is more mature, and this really shines through in this light warm salad.
The prime cuts of lamb – the loin, fillet, rack and rump – all work well cooked to medium rare or medium, while the harder-working muscles, such as the legs or shoulders, benefit from slower roasting or braising. The one problem with small portions of lamb is that the membrane between the fat and the meat very rarely breaks down before the meat is cooked. A rump will usually work, given its larger size, but a piece of loin is often better cooked as a lean eye of meat.
Serves 4 as a light main course
1 x 300g piece lamb loin, trimmed of all fat and sinew. (Reserve the fat.)
oil for frying the lamb
25g unsalted butter
100g rustic bread, cut into croutons
1 head of chicory
2 tbsp light olive oil
15g Parmesan, finely grated
100g watercress, large stalks removed
2 tsp capers
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Start by rendering the lamb fat for frying the croutons. Cut the fat into small pieces and colour in a heavy pan. Add enough water to cover by 1cm and then simmer gently until all the water has evaporated. You should be left with liquid fat and the solids. Strain and reserve the rendered fat.
2. Season the lamb loin well with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy nonstick pan. Seal the lamb all over to create a rich, dark colour. Add a second tablespoon of oil to cool the pan slightly and then add the butter, turning the lamb in the foaming butter over a low to medium heat for 3–4 minutes – aim for medium rare. Remove the lamb to rest on a plate in a warm place, retaining a dessertspoonful of the fat from the pan.
3. Fry the croutons in the rendered lamb fat until crisp and golden.
4. Break the chicory into individual leaves and cut any really large leaves in half at an angle.Wash and dry.
5. In a small food processor, blend the ricotta with the olive oil, Parmesan, a good grating of lemon zest and 2 tsp of lemon juice. Season to taste.
6. Toss the leaves together and scatter the croutons on top. Slice the lamb thinly and arrange on the leaves. Mix any lamb juices with a little of the fat from the frying pan and drizzle over the meat. Spoon the dressing and scatter the capers over the top. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and a little more grated lemon zest.
Well Seasoned: Exploring, Cooking and Eating with the Seasons
£25, Head of Zeus
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