I bought the lamb from Armstrong’s Family Butchers in St Margaret’s, Twickenham. Family butchers are sadly an endangered species now and rarely found. There is no longer a butcher in the centre of Twickenham, none in Richmond. Of course you can find butcher counters in the supermarkets, but it’s not the same. You’ll find butcher stalls in the Twickenham Farmers’ Market, but even those don’t satisfy the delight of going into a ‘proper’ butcher as they’re only there on Saturday mornings. A ‘proper’ butcher is someone you get to know; they get to know you and what you like; they have a wide and excellent range of produce and will happily and knowledgeably give advice and prepare meat in just the way you want. I think I may have to make the journey to St Margaret’s more often. It’s not far away, just the other side of Twickenham and just about walkable. In fact, I used to live here and Armstrong’s long ago was Mr Frisby’s butchers where I used to shop when my children were small. It’s just a little off my usual track now but I passed it a few weeks ago after meeting a friend in St Margaret’s and noticed the Welsh salt marsh lamb in the window and thought I must go back another time to buy some. As you can see from the photos below they have a wide range of excellent goods, not just meat, and were very friendly and helpful.
The reason I particularly noted the Welsh salt marsh lamb was because it was served at my son’s wedding meal, in Wales, in 2010. I’d not been aware of it before but it was wonderful. My daughter-in-law Lyndsey is Welsh so I thought as they were coming to Sunday lunch it would be nice to cook this. I was also going for an ‘almost’ French theme. I know ‘Welsh’ doesn’t immediately equate with ‘French’ but what I wanted was to cook a simple meal in a French style to go with the Galette des Rois I’d bought in Paul Bakery – a day late for Twelfth Night but certainly not to be missed (click here for more on the galette).
Armstrong’s salt marsh lamb comes from Monmouthshire in South Wales. Just as the name suggests, the lambs are grazed on salt marshes, feeding on plants like samphire, sea lavender and sorrel, which are rich in minerals and iodine. Despite the name, the lamb isn’t salty but has a wonderful distinctive flavour and is very tender. It has only become popular here in recent years but has been prized by the French for a long time where it is known as l’agneau pré-salé.
I decided to cook the lamb – a half leg – very simply with just some seasoning of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I wanted to celebrate its flavour. However, just to add a frisson of excitement, something a little special, I thought I’d make some persillade to accompany it. Persillade is a French parsley and garlic sauce. I decided to add some fresh mint as well, since I was serving lamb. I roasted some potatoes to go with it, adding some fresh rosemary from the garden to the roasting dish, and I also served some French beans dressed with a little olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
The lamb went into a hot oven (220C/ Fan 200/Gas 7) to seal it and the oven immediately turned down to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4. It weighed about 1kg (just over 2lb) so on the basis that lamb is cooked for 20 minutes per pound plus another 20 minutes, I cooked it for 1 hour. I then took it out and covered it in foil to rest for another quarter of an hour.
While the lamb was cooking I prepared the potatoes to go into the oven, parboiling them first, then coating in olive oil and adding the rosemary and some seasoning.
I put them in the oven about half an hour after the lamb went in and once the lamb came out, moved them further up to brown more while the meat rested.
I also made the persillade while the meat cooked. You can make this without the mint, if you prefer, and leftovers are great with other meats, fish or even potatoes. Just put, covered, in the fridge and use within a few days.
- small bunch of parsley, stalks removed
- leaves only from a few sprigs of fresh mint
- 2 cloves garlic
- juice 1 lemon and zest of ½ lemon
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (and maybe more)
- salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process. But it’s best to ‘pulse’ and keep an eye on it. You don’t want a smooth paste, just the ingredients finely chopped. Taste to check whether you want more lemon juice or seasoning. Use more olive oil if necessary to get to the consistency you want.
Once everything was under way we sat down to a few nibbles – all bought, nothing made – with some French saucisson, French cornichons, caperberries, olives and marinated baby tomatoes. I also bought a lovely French baguette from Paul to go with it. The beautiful white heart dishes are from The White Company and were part of my Christmas present from daughter Nicola.
I made a little gravy from the juices from the roasted meat, bubbling them up with some turkey stock (from Christmas!) and a dash of Madeira.
Then Jonathan carved the meat straight onto warm plates with some of the persillade on top while I put everything else out on the table so people could help themselves to vegetables and gravy. The half leg was the perfect size for 3 adults and one meat-eating toddler – nearly 3-year-old Freddie.
The lamb was gorgeous. It was wonderfully tender and truly has a fantastic and special taste. I really recommend you try Welsh salt marsh lamb if you can get some!