The first lamb of the season from The Ginger Pig, just in time for Easter
“Lamb is the most seasonal meat that we sell,” says Arabella, from The Ginger Pig’s farm in North Yorkshire. “The majority of the first of the spring lamb is from Dorset sheep, which are special in that they are the only British breed able to lamb all year round.”
Most sheep are seasonal breeders, mating in the autumn and producing lamb around May; Dorsets can be bred in December, ready to provide lamb in time for Easter.
These thickly-fleeced sheep are lambed in sheds to shelter the newborns from the cold weather. Then, when they’re strong enough, the lambs will be released back into the fields of rich pastureland, along with their mothers.
The Ginger Pig only uses meat from sheep that have been reared naturally, according to natural breeding patterns, to ensure as little stress is caused to the animal as possible.
As well as the Dorset lamb, which is sourced by The Ginger Pig from small farms in south-west England, at the Borough Market stall you’ll also find lamb from various traditional breeds found on the Yorkshire moors: Blackface sheep crossed with Blueface Leicester and Texel crosses.
But whatever the breed, you can be sure the standard of meat—and animal welfare—will be high. “All of our lamb will have been milk-fed and from grass-fed ewes, reared outdoors,” Arabella continues. “We’re extremely specific on the quality we get, so they will all be fantastic lambs.”
Small, tender, paler
Slaughtered at five months, spring lamb is small, tender, paler in colour and more delicate in flavour than hogget—the sheep equivalent of a teenager—and older mules, and while there is still fat on the meat, it is not as prevalent as in older sheep.
“Because of the milder flavour of the meat, stay away from strong flavours,” Arabella advises. “Stick to gentler flavours such as spearmint, enjoyed with seasonal vegetables”—right now, that means purple sprouting broccoli, spinach and three-cornered leeks.
Keep your eyes peeled for when, in a few weeks’ time, the first of the Jersey royals begin to appear at the Market—the perfect accompaniment to griddled lamb with crushed peas.
Borough Market demonstration chef Lesley Holdship likes to keep the delicate taste of spring lamb as the focal point of her dishes. “I normally just use salt and pepper, I don’t do much else with it—I don’t even add garlic,” she says.
“What I do like to do, though, is use a bit of wild garlic when it’s available”—which, happily, it is right now at Fitz Fine Foods and Elsey & Bent. “It has a milder flavour. And I like to think of spring lamb as being a bit more wild—I don’t know why! It just has a natural feel to it, so it’s nice to pair it with the sorts of things you might forage for.”
If you fancy something slightly richer, try making a French-style cream sauce with a little fresh mint. “It’s a cliché, but it just works really well.” In terms of cooking, Lesley suggests keeping the meat “nice and pink”, and particularly likes using rump.
“I cook it like a steak, but unlike beef, which you do quickly on a high heat, I tend to cook it on a medium heat either pan-fried, or griddled to give it a few nice, charcoal stripes.”