Are you hosting Easter lunch this year and need help with which cut of lamb to buy and the best way to cook it? I visited Flanagan’s Butcher’s in Crawley to get some tips.
If you are hosting a traditional Easter lunch then the chances are you are serving lamb…but it can be daunting buying and preparing lamb for a big occasion, be that Easter Day, a dinner party or just your regular Sunday roast. Go into a supermarket or butcher’s at this time of year and it’s easy to be dazzled by the number of options. It can be a little overwhelming. But it needn’t be so!
As you may know, I have been working closely with the ‘LAMB. Tasty Easy Fun’ campaign over the last few months, as one of their Lambassadors, sharing my love of lamb, showing how easy peasy lamb is to cook with and, of course, creating lots of delicious lamb recipes!
The ‘LAMB. Tasty Easy Fun’ campaign is keen to help people understand more about lamb: what to buy, how to buy it and how to cook it. Knowing how it can be daunting, cooking lamb for a big occasion, they sent me along to a local butcher’s to get advice from the experts on how to buy and cook lamb for Easter Day, to share with you my lovely readers. After all who better to ask about buying and cooking lamb than a butcher with over 25 years’ experience?
Flanagan’s is a traditional butcher’s in the village of Crawley Down, just outside Crawley in West Sussex. Like most local butcher’s, Flanagan’s takes pride in sourcing locally reared lamb from trusted sources and providing their customers not only with the best meat for the best price, but also excellent customer service and tips and advice on how to cook it to perfection.
I was greeted by Mick Bundy, the Shop Manager, who generously shared his wealth of knowledge from over 25 years in the trade.
What is the best cut of lamb for Easter Day?
As it is a question on many people’s minds at the moment, I started by asking him what the best cut of lamb for Easter Day is. Mick’s advice, for a traditional Easter lunch would be a leg of lamb: a leg of lamb tastes great, looks impressive and serves a crowd – a 5lb (2.2kg) leg would typically feed around 6 people. His advice was to look for spring lamb, if possible, as it is more tender and has a sweeter taste, but if you are working to a budget, old season’s lamb is still very good and slightly cheaper at this time of year. And, for maximum flavour, he advises choosing a leg which has a good covering of fat and to cook it on the bone.
Mick’s top tip was to ask your butcher to remove the H bone, a small but awkward bone near the top of the leg, as this makes the joint much easier to carve, but ask the butcher to reattach it with string, so you still get all the flavour from the bone.
For smaller families, Mick suggests a half leg of lamb weighing 3lb (1.35kg) which would typically feed around 4.
Most butchers also offer a range of mini roasts that come from the leg, which would feed 2-3 people and which cook very quickly (under an hour). Mini roasts are also a great way to enjoy roast lamb midweek – look out for my easy lamb mini roast recipe, coming soon!
What is the best way to cook a leg of lamb?
Mick’s advice was first to remove the leg of lamb from the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking. Next, preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan/gas mark 4/350F) and score the fat on the lamb, then season with plenty of salt and pepper, and use a few sprigs of rosemary to flavour the lamb.
When the oven temperature has been reached, he recommends cooking the lamb for 20 minutes plus 20 minutes per pound (450g) for medium. So for a 5lb (2.2kg) leg of lamb, cooking time would be approximately 2 hours. For a 3lb half leg of lamb, cooking time would be 1hour 20minutes.
For rare he advises 15 minutes plus 15 minutes per pound (450g), and for well-done 25 minutes plus 25 minutes per pound (450g). As an extra guide, he recommends plunging a knife into the centre of the cooked lamb, if the juices run completely clear the joint is well done, a little bit of red indicates medium and a lot of red indicates rare. You could of course use a meat thermometer, if you have one, for extra accuracy, but do remember the meat will continue to cook a little while it rests.
Mick was keen to stress that resting time is very important and he personally would cover the joint in foil when it comes out of the oven and rest in a warm place for a good 30-40 minutes to ensure the lamb is at its best.
For extra flavour he recommends using a marinade. One great tip for making life easier, which I hadn’t thought of before, is to ask your butcher to marinate the lamb for you. At Flanagan’s they will happily do this and offer a choice of Rosemary and Garlic, Garden Mint and the rather excitingly named ‘Greek Passion’, which sounds delicious! Ask your butcher what they have available.
What about other cuts of lamb?
I asked Mick what other cuts of lamb would make a good alternative to the traditional leg of lamb for Easter Day. Another cut which he suggests would work well is shoulder of lamb, a cut which is slightly more economical than leg of lamb and which Mick advises would suit longer, slower cooking (I am in total agreement – shoulder is one of my favourite cuts, but it does suit a long, slow cook…check out my Slow Roast Ras-el-Hanout Lamb for a delicious and very easy recipe!). Half shoulder and quarter shoulder joints are also available for smaller families.
Another great (and economical) option would be a stuffed and rolled breast of lamb – you can even ask your butcher to stuff and roll the breast of lamb for you, to save you a job! Or if you want to splash out, premium cuts such as a saddle of lamb, which can be boned, stuffed and rolled, or a rack of lamb, which cooks quickly. Alternatively, if you really want to impress, you can create a guard of honour using two large French trimmed racks of lamb intertwined, for example my Spiced Rack of Lamb with Honey Roast Root Vegetables – that would certainly be a show-stopper on Easter Day!
What are the advantages of buying lamb from a local butcher’s?
When life is busy, it is easy and convenient to get everything, including meat, from a supermarket – I asked Mick to convince me why buying meat from a butcher’s was worth the extra effort…
Mick explained that buying meat from a butcher’s is a very different experience from buying from the supermarket – you get a much more personal level of service for a start…Mick reckons they know 99% of their customers by name. Not only is the service personal and friendly, but you can benefit from the butcher’s wealth of experience and ask all the questions you like – from the best cuts to buy and the best deals, to how to prepare it and cook it at home.
Mick was keen to stress that he, like most butchers, is passionate about the whole cycle, from sourcing the best and most humanely reared lamb, to preparing the lamb the best way for the customer, to ensuring the lamb is cooked the best way at home. He positively encourages customers to ask him questions about how to cook the lamb to help ensure it is cooked, and most importantly tastes, the best it can possibly be.
Lamb from a butcher’s is also kept in optimal conditions, with adequate air circulation and good stock turnover and will much more likely be from local farms, not flown half way across the world and, as a result, have much easier traceability. Flanagan’s buy their lamb from only two trusted sources, direct from a local abattoir and from a local estate, ensuring the lamb they sell is great quality, easily traceable and comes from local farms, which in turn supports local businesses and farmers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about where the meat comes from – a good butcher should be happy to answer them!
Of course, Mick was keen to point out that he totally understands that many people are on a tight budget and supermarket prices can seem very attractive…but he reckons even if you only had £5 to spend on lamb, he could get you a better piece of meat than the one you would be able to find at the supermarket – it wouldn’t be one of the well-known cuts, but it would be a really good piece of meat, with an excellent flavour and you would have the butcher on hand to tell you exactly how to cook it to perfection!
And that’s the thing about a local butcher’s, you can get a much greater variety of cuts than you can at the supermarket, meaning not only that you can get exactly what you want, but also that, if you are on a limited budget, the butcher can recommend alternative, more economical cuts that you might not of thought of (or even heard of) before. The butcher can also save you time and effort, by marinating your lamb for you, boning, stuffing and rolling joints for you and, if you are adventurous, the butcher can help you choose cuts and cook your lamb in ways you might not have considered.
And, if you ever have any problems with the meat, do go back and talk to your butcher – Mick assured me that a butcher worth his salt will want to know about it and will be able to chase up their supplier and ensure it doesn’t happen again!
When is the best time to buy lamb for Easter?
One question I was keen to ask Mick was when the best time to buy a joint of lamb for Easter was to ensure I was buying it at the optimal time…after all lamb from the butcher’s doesn’t come with a handy use by date (though you can always ask!). Mick’s advice was to buy lamb on the Thursday or Friday before Easter Sunday and it will keep happily in the fridge until the Sunday. If you need to buy your lamb before then, Mick says they will also happily vacuum pack the lamb to keep it fresher for longer (check to see if your local butcher offers this service), and if you are hoping for something special and are concerned it might not be available, Mick advises telephoning the week before, to ensure you get exactly what you want. A week’s notice should be more than enough and many butchers will be able to get you exactly what you want with only a few days’ notice.
And what about after Easter?
Although we were particularly talking about Easter, these tips are invaluable for Sunday roasts, dinner parties and even midweek. There is a massive array of different lamb cuts and many, such as chops, stewing lamb, cutlets and mini roasts are ideally suited to midweek cooking.
After we had finished talking, Mick showed me how they butcher the lamb, from a whole carcass, down to all the different cuts. I was amazed at quite how many different cuts you could get from one lamb and how many different options there were, not to mention Mick’s skill and speed – it was hard to get good photographs as he was working so quickly!
From one lamb carcass, this is what Mick produced…
It was great to see the skill and the expertise of an experienced local butcher and I am really looking forward to buying my lamb for Easter this year! The trouble is now, with so many different options…I’m going to have a job making my mind up what to have!
How about you? What are you going to be cooking for Easter this year?
This is a collaborative post with the ‘LAMB. Tasty Easy Fun’ campaign. ‘LAMB. Tasty Easy Fun’ is an EU funded campaign which aims to increase the use of lamb in everyday cooking. Lamb is often considered difficult to cook, expensive, or something to be saved for Sunday roasts. The aim of the campaign is to demonstrate just how tasty, easy and fun lamb is to cook with every day of the week!
My thanks to Mick Bundy and Flanagan’s Butcher’s for their generosity with their time and expertise. Flanagan’s Butcher’s is located in Crawley Down, near Crawley, West Sussex. For more information visit their website: flanaganbutchers.com
Love Lamb? Check out my collection of Easy & Delicious Lamb Recipes
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