Our chef shares his fondness for breast and shoulder
As the joy of the Resurrection is proclaimed in church by the restoration of Alleluia to the Mass and Office, so too is the Paschal triumph made known at the table. Meat is back on the daily menu (though not on Fridays, of course, with a few festal exceptions). Those whose job it is to worry about such things would tell us that that does not necessarily mean we should be eating meat thrice daily – and certainly not of the processed kind. But a moderate quantity of red meat is good for the health as well as for the order of things; indeed it is the telos of many animals to be eaten.
Lamb is, for obvious scriptural reasons, an excellent choice for Eastertide. But we need not confine ourselves to griddled chops and roasted leg: this creature of God’s creation has many other cuts to offer us. I am not advocating a completely biblical approach to ‘nose-to-tail eating’, however. Many will find a whole lamb rather too costly and their neighbours unwilling to make up a syndicate – in any case, waste disposal regulations probably forbid the incineration of meat without the appropriate licences.
Breast, whilst not universally acknowledged to be the best cut of lamb, certainly has a lot to offer the thrifty cook. It is quite inexpensive, owing to the time and effort needed to prepare and cook it. With the right attention, however, excellent results can be
obtained. Breast of lamb has a significant layer of fat, which makes it very flavoursome. But something is needed to cut through and absorb the fat: try preparing a stuffing of citrus peel (I’ve used lemon, but orange could be worth exploring), breadcrumbs, and chopped dried fruit – apricots, perhaps – together with some bitter herbs, salt and pepper. Allow approximately one breast between two or three, depending on how
hungry you are. Lay out the stuffing so it covers the whole of the inside, roll up and secure with string. It should look like a Swiss roll. Season the exterior, brown it in a sizzling pan, and cook slowly in a medium oven.
Shoulder is often overlooked because of the complexity of the bone arrangements. If you are fortunate enough to be able to purchase meat from an actual butcher, he or she will be happy to bone a shoulder out for you. If not, YouTube is an excellent source for DIY home butchery. A small sharp knife is essential. Like breast, stuffed and rolled and slow-cooked is the best way of approaching this cut. My favoured stuffing is a paste made out of a tin or two of anchovies with their oil, six fat garlic cloves, two or three sprigs of fresh rosemary (de-stalked), the same of
thyme, and a good few twists of pepper. There’s no need for salt – the anchovies have plenty. It’s best to chop all this up on a board, rather than use a food processor; cleaning up is quicker, and you can judge more easily if a little more of this or that is needed. The tying up procedure is slightly more daunting, but as long as you are able to tie knots in string you will get there: it’s the first knot that is the hardest. A sous chef (any human with washed hands will do) to hold the string in place as you tie is helpful but not essential. Season the outside, and after twenty minutes or so in a high oven, turn down the heat and cook slowly.
Both these dishes may be prepared in advance up to the cooking stage, and busy priests could put them in the oven before, between, or immediately after the Sunday-morning masses, depending on the weight and time of eating. Use scales and a favoured cooking-times table to determine how long any given roast will need. It is nigh-on impossible to give hard and fast rules, as so much depends on the efficiency of individual ovens. The best advice is to invest in a meat thermometer from a catering supplier: internal temperature is the only sure way to know (consult the internet or a cookbook for temperatures). If you start cooking with the meat at room temperature, you will have an easier time of it.
For quicker cooking, maybe for a weeknight supper, what about liver? It has had something of resurgence in recent years, as more television chefs sing the praises of offal. Liver is approachable: it doesn’t look too peculiar and the flavour is not challenging. The classic accompaniments of slow-cooked onions and well-fried bacon are hard to beat. Deglaze the pan with white wine to make a quick sauce, and garnish with parsley. Serve with mashed potato or something similarly absorbent; just be sure not to overcook the liver or you may be tempted from joy to sorrow.