Last Updated on February 28, 2022
Herdwick Lamb from Roast Mutton – a Lake District Butcher
What’s your favourite cut of lamb? For me it’s a tie between a slow-cooked leg of lamb like the one Madeleine has been showcasing and a dainty rack of lamb. The rack is formed from the ribs of lamb or mutton and a single rack makes the perfect roast for two people. Like all excellent quality meat, I prefer to cook something like this very simply.
Herdwick lamb (the name originates from “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture) comes from the Lake District and is known for strongly flavoured lamb and mutton. It’s a slow maturing breed, one of the hardiest of all British hill sheep. In the Lake District, Herdwicks spend winter on the fells and are normally left to graze freely on the hillsides with no additional feed. Ninety-five per cent of all Herdwicks live within 14 miles of Coniston, Cumbria. Herdwick lamb was served at Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 coronation banquet. It’s arguably the best-known lamb in the UK and certainly one of the finest. My Herdwick lamb came from a specialist lake district butcher who now delivers nationwide. Roast Mutton delivers fresh meat to your door and really go above and beyond in terms of customer service. When you place an order you can talk with the butcher on the phone and discuss exactly how you want your meat prepared. So, it’s just like having a good quality butcher on your doorstep!
To make this herbed rack of lamb, I’d suggest you use your own judgement about the herbs you use. I grow herbs in my tiny back garden and at this time of year what’s available is just a bit limited. There’s plenty of fresh rosemary and, somehow, the oregano that I planted last year survived the frosts and has made it through to February. But, the thyme has died and there’s so little parsley I don’t want to harvest what is there in case I kill off the plants! So, I’ve used a mixture of rosemary and oregano together with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper to make the paste to coat the lamb. The herb crust has two purposes – it adds a beautiful, delicate aromatic taste to enhance the lamb and it helps to stop the meat from drying out during cooking.
This dish was cooked on a base of celery, onion and carrot for the lamb to roast on. Not only does that help to keep the lamb moist it also provides extra flavour when it comes to making the red wine jus. And, I cut the rack in half so that I could stand the roast on end to help ensure the meat was evenly cooked and basted in its own fat. Another time, I’d score the fat – I didn’t and I believe the herb crust would have worked better if it had penetrated through the roast a little more. Given this cut of meat cooks really quickly, it’s also perhaps a good idea to help the fat render a bit more easily.
I was given a bag of lamb bones and so I pressure cooked them for a couple of hours to make lamb stock for the jus and to freeze for use later. You could substitute chicken stock (some chefs actually prefer that as it provides a more delicate base), or even a stock cube if necessary. That apart, this was a quick and easy way to create a luxurious roast for two. The rack cooked in about 20 minutes to a nice pink colour (medium rare) and I let it rest for five to ten minutes while I made the jus and finished the creamed potatoes
What makes a rack of lamb so special is that each diner gets three or four sweet, tender lamb cutlets on the bone – it’s an elegant dish which would be perfect for Mother’s Day or for a special date night meal.
An excellent dish like this deserves a good wine and I paired my rack of lamb with a stunning bottle of wine, Dominio Fournier Reserva, Ribera del Duero 2014. From the Spanish side of the river, this wine is made from old vines – an average age of 25 years but some plots with vines over 60 years old. When it’s first opened the tannins are a little overwhelming but after half an hour or so the wine softens. Full of black fruit and smoke, it’s a powerful wine that worked well with the flavoursome rack of Herdwick lamb and the herby crust. You can buy this from Master of Malt with this vintage priced at £32.95.
Another time, I think I’d decant the wine – although there was very little sediment it definitely benefitted from breathing a bit.
If you’d like to make my herbed rack of lamb with red wine jus at home, here’s how to do it.
An elegant meal for two with a herb crusted rack of lamb served with red wine jus.
- 1 rack lamb - with 6 to 8 cutlets
- 1 handful fresh rosemary
- 1 handful fresh oregano
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 stick celery
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 medium onion
- salt and pepper to taste
- 250 millilitres lamb stock
- 250 milliltres red wine
- 10 grams butter
- 15 grams plain flour
Pick the rosemary and oregano from its stems
Peel the garlic
Put the olive oil, herbs and garlic in a small blender and season with salt and pepper
Blend to a thick paste
Score the skin of the lamb and cut the rack in half.
Coat each half with the herb mixture, working it well into the meat
Cover and leave to marinate for a couple of hours. Unless it's very hot, you can do this on the kitchen counter. If you want to leave the lamb for longer, then pop it in the fridge and take out 15 minutes before you are ready to cook
Pre heat the oven to 185C
Dice the carrot, celery and onion and pile onto a small roasting pan. Place the lamb on top, with the top of the bones interlocking so that the rack stands on end
Put in the oven and cook for 10 minutes at 185, then reduce the heat to 170 and cook for a further 15 minutes or so until the internal heat of the meat is around 60-65C.
Take the lamb out of the oven and cover with a foil tent to keep warm.
Use the roasting pan to make the jus, pushing the softened vegetables through a metal sieve
Add the flour and stir into the juices from the pan. Cook over a low temperature for 2- 4 minutes
Add the wine and whisk well over a moderate heat
Add the meat stock and reduce the jus down till it has thickened a little
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Then stir through the butter and serve some onto each plate. Add a half rack of lamb on top