ArchiveSeptember 6, 2008

Love Irish Lamb

Sheep Farmers not only in Ireland, but throughout Europe are having a particularly challenging time.   Several major supermarkets are offering 2 for the price of 1 which means the farmers get half the usual price for their produce.

I love lamb, the sweetness of Irish lamb reared on fresh grass is incomparable. Irish hill lamb is just coming into season so do ask your butcher for it.   It has a smaller leaner carcass and smaller cuts than the conventional lowland product, and due to the variation of vegetation it grazes on – heathers, grasses, furze – over extensive areas of hill and mountain, the meat has a sweeter and richer flavour.

 I was interested to taste some Blackface lamb in Skibbereen last week.  It has a distinctive flavour quite different to Suffolk or Suffolk Texel crosses, the lamb reared on the Knockmealdown mountains, tastes different again as do those from Wicklow and Connemara.  Why is it so difficult to identify the difference in butcher shops?

I and many chefs and customers would be interested to taste and compare individual breeds.  In other countries the demand for rare breed meat is gathering momentum – when we have it let’s flaunt it.  Butcher Andrew Sharpe from Cumbria has put Swallowdale and Herdwick lamb and mutton back on the menu, over 10 years ago he encouraged local farmers to sell directly to the public from the farmers market in Kendal.  The response was so overwhelming that they loaded up a van a few weeks later and headed for Borough Market, London, and customers went mad for it.  As a result they saved the livelihood of many of the sheep farmers in Cumbria.

In Ireland it’s all easy for chefs to be tempted to simplify their lives by ordering from a single catering supplier, individual joints arrive trimmed and identical and at a price. However, there’s a price to everything and if we don’t support all our farmers and serve our local lamb proudly it won’t be an option within a short time and then watch how the price will shoot up. According to Bord Bia Ireland produces about 60,000 tons of sheep meat annually, one third of this is consumed on the domestic market.  Average per capita consumption of lamb is about 5kg and this is about twice the average EU rate.  As well as being a source of protein, lamb is an excellent source of easily absorbed zinc, iron and vitamin B, especially B12.

Every scrap of lamb can be used.  A leg of lamb simply roasted can feed an entire family and depending on size can provide leftovers for tasty sandwiches or shepherds pie.  The loin provides two types of chops – side and centre loin and then there are meaty chump chops between the loin and leg.  The less expensive shoulder and neck make a delicious stew or the shoulder can be slow roasted for a joint that will have the entire family licking their lips.    Make a broth from the bones, add some diced vegetables and pearl barley and you’ll have the most comforting of soup.

Lamb shanks are still incredible value for money as is breast of lamb or lamb riblets which both children and adults adore.  I also love lambs kidneys which have to be the best value of all. 

Bord Bia also say that there is a growing trend towards purchasing value cuts such as burgers, diced and minced lamb which are useful for mid-week meal options.

Whichever joint we choose make sure its Irish.   Irish lamb is grass fed and free range.

 In the famous words of the late Jack Lynch ‘lets look after our own!’

Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Marjoram

Serves 10-15

1 leg of lamb 2.5-3kg (5 1/2 -6 1/2lb), boned and butterflied (ask your butcher to do this)

6 cloves garlic, cut into slivers

110ml (4fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons marjoram or oregano

Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper


A few hours before cooking scatter half the slivered garlic and chopped marjoram over the base of a large non-reactive dish. Drizzle with some olive oil. Slash the skin side of the meat here and there and lay on top of the garlic and herbs.  Sprinkle the remainder of the herbs, garlic and olive oil over the top.  Season with lots of freshly cracked pepper.  Cover and allow to marinade for a minimum of 2-3 hours or better still overnight.


Remove meat from the marinade, season with sea salt and cook on a pre-heated barbecue. Grill for 30 to 40 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time for medium rare. Let rest for 10 minutes and then carve into thin slices. Serve at once.

Alternatively cook in a preheated hot oven 230C/450F/gas mark 8 for 30-40 minutes or until cooked to your liking.

Rory O’Connell’s Spiced Lamburgers with Mint Chutney

Makes 8-12 depending on size


2lbs (900g) minced shoulder of lamb

8oz (225g) finely chopped onion

2oz (55g) butter

2 teaspoons of coriander, toasted and ground

2 teaspoons cumin seed, toasted and ground

salt and pepper

2 eggs



Ballymaloe Tomato Relish, fresh coriander leaves, diced apple and banana,  Banana and Yogurt Raita and Poppodums are also good with these.

Sweat the finely chopped onions gently in the butter until cooked.  Put to cool and then add them to the minced lamb and spices.  Add the lightly beaten eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Form into burger or patty shapes and refrigerate until required.  Cook on a hot grill or frying pan according to your own liking.  Serve with  Ballymaloe relish, mint chutney, a little diced apple and banana and a dusting of paprika. 

Foolproof Food
Fresh Mint Chutney

This fresh chutney is often served in India with curries. It is good with grilled fish or roast lamb instead of mint sauce.  Surprisingly, even though it is uncooked, this chutney will keep for several days in a covered jar or plastic container in the refrigerator.


1 large cooking apple (we use Grenadier or Bramley Seedling), peeled and cored

a large handful of fresh mint leaves, Spearmint or Bowles mint

55g (2oz) onions

30-55g (1-2ozs) castor sugar (depending on tartness of apple)

salt and cayenne pepper


Whizz all the ingredients in a food processor, season with salt and a little cayenne pepper.


Tip: Serve mint chutney as a really yummy dip with poppodums before dinner as a simple starter.


Lamb Kebabs with Tsatsiki

Serves 8 approx.


Choose kebab skewers carefully. They need to be flat and at least 3mm (⅛inch) wide, better still 5mm (¼inch). If they are round, the meat will swivel as you try to turn it. Best barbecued but kebabs may also be pan-grilled.


900g (2lb) lean shoulder or leg of lamb


 Marinade    1

300ml (½ pint) natural yoghurt

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

juice of ½ lemon


Marinade  2

6 tablespoons olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon annual marjoram, rosemary or thyme leaves

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

salt and freshly ground pepper

 metal skewers or kebab sticks

Accompaniments – Tsatsiki

Mix either or both marinades, cut the meat into 2.5cm (1inch) cubes approx., season with salt and freshly ground pepper and put into chosen marinade for 1 hour at least.  Drain the meat and thread into metal skewers or kebab sticks.  Grill for 7 -10 minutes over a barbecue.  Turn and baste with the marinade, serve with a green salad and chosen sauce eg. Tsatsiki



This Greek speciality is a delicious cucumber and yoghurt mixture and can be served as an accompanying salad or as a sauce to serve with grilled fish or meat.  Greek yoghurt is often made with sheep’s milk and is wonderfully thick and creamy.


1 crisp Irish cucumber, peeled and diced into ⅛-¼ inch dice approx.

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 heaped tablesp. of freshly chopped mint

 16 fl.oz (450ml) Greek yoghurt or best quality natural yoghurt

4 tablespoons cream


Put the cucumber dice into a sieve and sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.  Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper, put into a bowl and mix with garlic, a dash of wine vinegar or lemon juice and the yoghurt and cream.  Stir in the mint and taste, it may need a little salt and freshly ground pepper, or even a pinch of sugar.


Lamb Soup with Farmhouse Cheese – from Bord Bia                                       

Serves 4-6

675g neck or gigot lamb chops on the bone

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-2 bay leaves

1 litre water

25g butter

25g flour

250ml milk

75-100g grated Farmhouse Cheddar

3-4 carrots, diced

2 leeks, finely chopped

3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

Salt and black pepper


To serve – Fresh mint/parsley, chopped 

Place the lamb on the bone into a saucepan.  Add the chopped onion, garlic and bay leaves and cover with the water.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for an hour.  Remove the lamb and cut the meat into small pieces – discard the bones, but keep the lamb stock.


In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour.  Cook for a minute, stirring all the time and then add the milk.  Simmer the sauce for two minutes, add the cheese, the lamb stock, lamb pieces and vegetables.  Simmer gently for half an hour stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and lots of black pepper.  Serve with chopped mint or parsley.  It needs only crusty bread to complete the meal.


Lamb and Mushroom Korma – from Bord Bia

Serves 4

1 large onion, finely chopped

Groundnut oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablesp. fresh root ginger, grated

1 teasp. ground cumin

1 teasp. ground coriander

1 fresh chilli, chopped

3-4 cardamom pods, seeded and crushed

1 teasp. turmeric

1kg shoulder of lamb, well trimmed and diced

125ml Greek Style natural yoghurt, mixed with 1 teasp. cornflour

225g mushrooms, sliced

1 tablesp. lemon/lime juice

Salt and black pepper



Sauté the onions in the oil in a heavy saucepan until lightly golden.  Add garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, chillies, cardamom and turmeric and fry gently for 2 minutes. Add lamb and coat with the onion and spice mixture.  Stir in the yoghurt, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally or cook in the oven, Gas Mark 4, 180°C (350°F) for approximately 1 hour.


Add mushrooms and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes or until the lamb is tender.  Stir in the lemon/lime juice, season with salt and black pepper.  Garnish with a sprig of coriander or chervil and a fresh red chilli cut in half.


Delicious served with basmati rice.


Hot Tips


Bord Bia

Check out the Bord Bia website for lots more delicious lamb recipes.

Great Taste Awards –

The Great Taste Awards, which is organised by the Guild of Fine Food and often referred to as the Oscars of the food industry, is this year celebrating its 15th anniversary. 

Congratulations to Caroline Rigney of Rigneys Farm, near Adare, Co Limerick

For winning Award for her pork products – Caroline will be taking part in Terra Madre Pork Workshop on Friday 5th September at WIT Tel 061 39 3988

Caroline also runs a very successful farm guesthouse on their working farm.
Email: Website:

Corrin Hill Ice Cream also wins Great Taste Award

Corrin Hill Ice Cream from Fermoy is celebrating after winning a prestigious Great Taste Award.  The Cork dairy has received Gold Great Taste Awards for Corrin Hill Strawberry Ice Cream and Corrin Hill Natural Frozen Yogurt.
The Hollies, Castletown, Enniskeane, Co Cork

The Hollies is a  centre for training in Practical Sustainability . The aim of the project is to create working examples of what a sustainable society might look like in the areas of housing, energy, gardening, economics and community development.  Since 2003 work has gone into building a cob house , gardens , an orchard and woodland. Various natural building techniques can be seen.  In 2006 as part of an educational project a new garden was developed to sell organic produce at the Bandon Farmer’s market. There is also a wetland area and pond.  Visit the website  for more information and photos of the gorgeous cob buildings you will find there.


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