It’s spring! Time of daffodils and tulips, budding magnolias – and spring lamb chops! How wonderful – just in time for Easter!
Except it never is.
Lambing season usually takes place in early spring. Easter, even when late, is in April so you really can’t expect new season lamb on your Easter Sunday table. Regardless of humane considerations, a lamb has to be at least 4-6 months old before it can become dinner. Otherwise it would just be far too expensive for farmers to rear and the amount of meat on that poor little mite would be negligible.
In the past demand had induced some awful procedures, like trying to push back ‘tupping’ (ewes and rams getting it on) to earlier in the year. That was farmers trying to fight competition of New Zealand lamb imports for those customers who had to have it by any means, presto and for Easter.
New Zealand lamb is not reared as environment and welfare compliant as UK lamb, hence it’s cheaper. But shouldn’t we rather support our farmers and avoid the exorbitant number of food miles that one Kiwi lamb chop carries with it?
One fortunate effect of the cost of living crisis is that nobody (farmers, butchers, customers) can afford to slaughter lambs unless they grow quite a little older, which means ‘new season lamb’ now happens at Solstice rather than Easter.
All of it means that yes, I’ll have lamb at Easter but it will be last season’s, or even hogget: over 1 year old lamb.
There is nothing wrong with the meat, in fact quite a few people think it’s better in flavour and doesn’t taste weirdly milky and bland like baby sheep. And you can still make your spring chops, they’ll just be bigger. Not quite a downside, is it?
For a special meal, lamb loin is always gorgeous, no matter how old the lamb. It’s not a cheap option and neither is lamb rack, in a Parmesan crust or with grilled pineapple. For an Easter or otherwise roast, you can’t beat a leg studded with cloves and rosemary.
Any leftovers make for even a better feast, like lamb and spinach filo pie or lamb pastillas.
But there are plenty of cheaper lamb options and perfectly lovely albeit undervalued cuts. Lamb breast is the equivalent of pork belly – nobody knows of it and a shame because it’s fantastic rolled and roasted.
Lamb neck fillet can be slowly braised or quickly grilled. And lamb shank is a crowd pleaser, especially served with stir fried cabbage.
And the best value and in my view the best dishes are made from lamb mince, which the Greeks, Turks and Middle Eastern nations know well. Try a lamb doner kebab made at home or koftas with a harissa dip. Stuff courgettes with it or bake a huge tray of moussaka.
So that’s eating seasonal – and sometimes the longer you have to wait for it, the better it tastes.