Sunday, June 17, 2012

Slow roast parchment wrapped shoulder of lamb with honey, lemon & thyme

Honey. What a delicious and wonderfully sustainable resource, not to mention natural and chock full of good stuff for the body. But anyone who has tried to roast with it will be well aware of the big down side of any ingredient that is so rich in sugar - burning. Nothing can be quite so depressing as to open the oven and find that your juicy succulent roast, which was supposed to be full of fragrant and subtle flavours, has been pockmarked by acrid black spots which means that even if the roast is salvageable, your gravy surely won't be.

Of course the obvious answer to this malady is just don't use honey or similar in the first place, but I love the stuff, and it's a natural partner for many meats. So the next step is to find a method that somehow keeps the rich flavours but avoids the burning - which is where the parchment wrapping comes in. Sealing meat in some form of protective wrapping is a long revered tradition, whether it's really old school such as wrapping in an (inedible) pastry, or more contemporary such as the latest sous vide techniques. Either way, you need to find a way of keeping the ingredients that have a tendency to burn, away from the direct heat of the oven.

I've done a few parchment wraps so far, mostly lamb, but this is the first that included honey. Lamb is already a sweet meat, but there's something special about the combination of lamb and honey. Thyme again is a natural accompaniment, and at this time of year it's really at its best, with long tender new growth full of flavour. Lemon I feel is often a good idea with fat and strong meat such as lamb, as it cuts through that richness, and also marries very well with the other two ingredients.

This is also a slow roast, as I believe this is the best way to treat a shoulder of lamb, as it breaks down any tough meat into meltingly tender strips, and the natural fattiness of the lamb ensures that it remains juicy even after hours of cooking. It also means that although I have to spend a little time at the very beginning of the day preparing the meat, I have the rest of the morning to myself to do other things, in this case wandering through the Exe Valley watching trains and paddling in the river Exe with my family. Lots of fun :-)

The Recipe

The first step with this is to blend together them ingredient to coat the shoulder of lamb. This should be a whole shoulder on the bone, though off the bone should work fine too. Take 2 tablespoons or so of honey, the same of chopped thyme, and blend with half a lemon - both rind and juice. Add a teaspoon of salt (flaky sea in my case) and pepper to taste if you like it - I didn't in this case.

The coating for the meat - honey, lemon, thyme and salt

Line a roasting dish with some baking parchment ready to fold, and place the meat on it. Now pour the mix over the meat and ensure it's well covered. Don't worry about the underside, it'll all come out in the wash!

The meat covered in the mix

Now wrap up the meat securely in parchment, using several layers to ensure all the juices stay in. I did mine several layers one way, ands then added another load of baking parchment 90° to the first lot.

The meat wrapped up ready for the oven

Now bake this in the oven for four hours at 150°C (fan). You should end up with something like this.

The finished dish

I poured some of the juices out of the wrap at this stage so I could then reheat them and serve with the meat on the table, as the meat was going to rest for half an hour and I wanted to bring some heat back to the dish.

It's a light summer way of preparing a large piece of lamb like this, and comes our very tender. I did get a little blackening in the pan itself where some juices had managed to leak out, so I could have perhaps sealed the parchment more, but on the whole this is a very effective way of using honey in a long slow roast and being able to retain flavour without burning. Served this with potatoes and carrots, as that's what I had to hand, but honestly I think it would be much better accompanied by bread and salad.

One curious point to finish on, even though this was sealed throughout the cooking, you'll notice that there is still some blackening inside the wrapping. Where this had cooked the thyme, honey and lemon glaze the result was outstanding, creating crispy biscuits of herb flavoured honeyed lamb skin. An expected benefit!

You can see the whole album for Slow roast parchment wrapped shoulder of lamb with honey, lemon & thyme on my Google+ profile if you're interested.


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