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Honeyed shoulder of lamb with flageolet beans

What to have for Sunday dinner at Easter? There are several options; if you look up suggestions for an Easter Sunday roast online you’ll find options involving pork, beef and chicken. However, the meat that is most traditionally associated with Easter is lamb. It’s closely associated with spring, and the religious symbolism – the Last Supper having been a Passover meal, and lamb being the meat most associated with the Passover – is a strong one.

It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that while British lamb isn’t as intensively farmed as (say) beef and pork, lamb for the “ever-reliable” Easter market comes from flocks specially managed for autumn lambing, according to The River Cottage Meat Book (most flocks would be lambing in the spring if left to their own devices). Specifically, we opted for shoulder – which, according to Hugh F-W in the above book, is “wrongly thought of as the poor man’s leg … plenty of tender meat, albeit in a form that is not easy to carve.”

We already had a recipe for lamb shoulder that we’ve used before, and liked – and it’s a bit different, as the main accompaniment is flageolet beans (“a high-class variation of the haricot, and quite delicious”, according to Delia Smith) rather than roast potatoes. We’re not entirely sure how we came to have this recipe (it was clipped from a magazine called Good Taste which apparently promotes food from Lincolnshire, not a county that Allison and I have visited – so goodness knows how we got hold of it). It’s also not the best-written of recipes, as it calls for lemon juice and zest in the ingredients but doesn’t mention what to do with the zest in the instructions, while oil (type and quantity unknown) is omitted from the ingredients but mentioned in the instructions. We also didn’t have all of the required herbs in ‘fresh’ form so we did what we could, and what’s presented here is a somewhat modified recipe.

Mix the juice and zest of a lemon with two tablespoons of honey, two tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of generous pinches of dried oregano. Cut a head of garlic in half (horizontally) and place both halves in a lined roasting tin; place a 1.4kg (3lb) shoulder of lamb on top of this and rub it with the mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the lamb, and place sprigs of rosemary and thyme – four or five of each – atop and beside it. Add 150ml of stock (chicken or vegetable will do) to the tin, and stick in an oven pre-heated to 180°C (or 400°F, or gas mark 6).

Cook for 2½ hours, and allow to rest for 30 minutes after that. In the meantime, melt 30g butter in a sauté pan, then add one chopped onion and two or three finely-chopped cloves of garlic. When these have been sweated for 5-10 minutes, add the (drained) contents of two tins of flageolet beans and approximately one teaspoon of finely chopped rosemary leaves. After coating the beans, add 100ml of stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for three minutes. Add three tablespoons of double cream and bring to the boil again; season with salt and pepper.

Once the lamb has been transferred from the roasting tin to the carving-plate, strain the liquid, syphon off the fat and thicken the liquid if required to serve as an accompanying jus.

We served ours with pan-fried kale. Delicious – another winner!

As it happens, we actually used a somewhat larger shoulder than specified in the recipe, so we modified the cooking time accordingly. This left us with a fair amount of leftover lamb meat, as well as the bones. What to do with those? Stay tuned…

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