Eliza Acton’s boiled leg of lamb

by Bee Wilson

A variation on a mutton recipe from 1860

My starting point for this dish was Eliza Acton’s recipe for boiled leg of mutton with tongue and turnips (subtitled “an excellent receipt”) from the 1860 edition of her book, but I used lamb instead of mutton. Acton described the smoked tongue garnish as an “innovation” so I ditched it with a clear conscience. The other changes I made were to use tarragon in place of winter savoury and to reduce the cooking time of the vegetables (we don’t appreciate a 2 hour cooked carrot quite as the Victorians do).


1 leg of lamb (about 2kg, but any size you have will do—this is a forgiving recipe)
Water to cover
A huge bunch of parsley, thyme and tarragon (or winter savoury if you have it), tied with kitchen string
3 shallots or onions stuck with cloves
4 carrots

To serve:
5 carrots
5 turnips
Caper or cucumber sauce


Put the lamb in your largest casserole (you may need to cut the end off the leg to fit it in, or ask your butcher to do this). Cover with water, bring to the boil and skim off the copious white scum. After you have skimmed a few times throw in 1 tbsp salt. When the scum has cleared, add the herbs, carrots and onions or shallots. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 2-2½ hours or until the meat feels tender when poked with a fork.

Leave the meat in the broth for a further 2 hours to rest. Ladle off a saucepanful of broth, bring to the boil and use this to boil the remaining carrots and turnips (peeled and cut into large pieces). You may also want to use a separate panful of broth to cook some rice, or you might prefer mashed potatoes.

When the time comes to carve, lift the boiled meat from its liquid onto a board and find your sharpest knife. See diagram above and start to make thick cuts from a to b, against the grain. You may find, to your surprise, that boiled lamb is actually easier to carve than roast (less grease to make it slippery). When you have cut all the pieces that will slice in this direction, you will have to improvise.