I must confess that I am not entirely convinced by those who wax lyrical about their obsession with “seasonality” or “local produce”. Any good cook already worth their salt will be au fait with these topics in the kitchen, drawing on a wealth of experience in eating, cooking and buying food over the course of any year. I hold an apprehension that those who are overly vociferous in declaring their enthusiasm for eating “seasonally” and “locally” are likely lacking in knowledge elsewhere and seeking to make amends for it.
My cynicism aside, I think it’s important that all of us understand the basics of seasonal eating. Aside from helping you to understand where your food has come from it also ensures that you are getting the best quality and value for your money when you shop. Astringently red strawberries in January, shipped from the far corners of the globe, will never taste as good as the darker hued berries grown in Britain and picked during our summer months. In January your money would be more wisely spent on Seville oranges to make marmalade or pomegranates and blood oranges for an exotic fruit salad.
I think an enhanced awareness of the seasons in the kitchen would be a welcome addition to the currently limited food science (or home economics) curriculum taught in our schools. Without well-rounded and informative food education I struggle to see how younger generations will learn to sustain a healthy and balanced diet on whatever budget they grow up to face; something Jamie Oliver is keen to address with his global Food Revolution Days.
An effortless introduction to seasonal eating lies in the food and meals we associate with holidays and festivities throughout the calendar year; pumpkins and squashes for Halloween; chestnuts, cranberries and clementines at Christmas or lamb and new potatoes for Easter and Spring. Our traditional annual celebrations are peppered with seasonal produce and are a great starting point for seasonal education. April is abundant with lamb, rhubarb, watercress and Jersey Royal new potatoes to name a just few. Whilst May will bring asparagus, gooseberries, radishes and sardines.
I am, by no means, evangelical regarding seasonality, finding it both limiting and daunting to live a life tied inextricably to the seasons. I am as culpable as the next person for a reliance on our year round access to limitless fresh fruit, meat and vegetables from across the globe. Yet, what I am advocating, is a mindfulness towards better food education and embracing great seasonal food at its peak where possible (and feasible).
With that in mind, and Easter already round the corner, I used a dinner party feast as an excuse to test out a lamb recipe I’ve been salivating over for far too long. I was introduced to this way of cooking lamb by a friend last year and it has stuck with my ever since. A shoulder joint is massaged with a spiced garlic and rosemary rub and roasted on a low heat for seven hours until the meat falls effortlessly from the bone, creating the most tender tangle of sweet lamb.
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Recipe
Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb
Serves 4 – 6
2 kg shoulder of lamb (bone in)
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
½ cinnamon stick, broken up
1 ½ tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Leaves from 2 large rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
3 tsp olive oil
1 pomegranate, halved and deseeded
Handful of chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds along with the cinnamon and peppercorns in a dry pan over a moderate heat for around a minute or until fragrant. Pound to a coarse powder using a pestle and mortar, then stir in the cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic, rosemary, salt and olive oil.
Lightly score the skin of the meat with a sharp knife (I had my butcher do this for me due to a lack of sharp knives), making shallow cuts just a few millimetres deep and a couple of centimetres apart. Rub half the spice mix all over the lamb, taking care to push it into the cuts and rub it underneath the joint too. Place in a large roasting tin and into the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the meat from the oven and rub the remaining spice paste over the meat. Using the back of a spoon is a useful way to smear effectively. Pour a glass of water into the tin, taking care not to pour it over the meat. Cover with two layers of foil and return to the oven. Reduce the heat to 120°C and cook for 6.5 hours.
Transfer the lamb to a wooden board and roughly shred using two forks. Skim the excess fat off the juices in the tin and pour these juices over the meat. Scatter with a little chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds – I find the best way is to hold each half, cut side down, in the palm of your hand and give it a good thwack with a wooden spoon. Enjoy with salad and new potatoes, or Gigantes Plaki like we did.