Rowley Leigh's shoulder of lamb with onions and turnip gratin

While we may see broad beans imported from Sicily in a few rarefied shops – and we may find expensive, imported asparagus on a few restaurant menus, this is still a difficult time for the cook. The resourceful will find sorrel and wild garlic but even in this mild, albeit wet, year, spring takes its time to produce anything for the table. Pretending that lambs born in a barn in December which have not eaten a blade of grass are “spring” lambs represents the same false dawn as a greenhouse tomato or a farmed trout.

I have said it before but it is worth repeating. The original Paschal lamb was most definitely mutton – an old ram. Forgoing mutton, I have opted for a fine piece of hogget – a lamb born last summer that will have wintered outdoors and developed a pronounced flavour but lost the milky sweetness of very young lamb. To compound these Old Testament proclivities, I have cooked it for quite a long time, until there is not a drop of blood left in the beast and the meat is of a melting consistency.

I have gone the same way with the turnips. Instead of pretty little “bunch” turnips, I have opted for proper “winter” turnips. I have to admit one takes a risk here, as large turnips can often suffer from rot and also have a propensity to be soft inside. Happily, ours were firm and clean.

Persuading people to eat turnips is a mischievous hobby of mine. Like celery, turnips are a taste that many do not bother to acquire. I find this particular recipe, which the unthinking will enjoy as potato until at least half way through their allotted portion, is especially efficacious in converting the heathen.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais


Shoulder of lamb with onions


This recipe is indecently simple. Only one cooking vessel is required and, furthermore, it is not time-sensitive and can be kept waiting a good while. Comfortably serves six.

1 shoulder of lamb, weighing 2kg-2.5kg

2 cloves garlic

2-3 sprigs rosemary

2 large onions

2-3 sprigs thyme

1 glass white wine

200ml chicken stock or water

● Trim any excess fat from the joint and make several evenly spaced incisions with a small knife. Peel and slice the garlic very thinly and insert it into the gaps in the meat, along with a couple of leaves of rosemary. Season the joint copiously with sea salt and pepper and place in a roasting tray, skin-side up, and put in a moderately hot oven, say 200C. Allow to colour for 30 minutes.

● Peel the onions and slice them thinly. After the meat has been cooking for 30 minutes, place the onions around the joint, together with some sprigs of thyme, turn the oven down to 150C and leave to cook for a further hour. Add the wine and let that simmer and reduce for a further 20 minutes.

● Lift out the meat and keep it warm. Put the oven dish on the heat and add stock or water to extend the very concentrated and flavoursome juices. Bring to a boil and reduce slightly before checking the seasoning and serve the meat on a fine serving dish, surrounded by the onions and juice.

Turnip gratin


Like the lamb, this will hold in a warm oven for some time.

1kg turnips

500ml single cream

250ml crème fraîche


1-2 cloves of garlic

30g finely grated Parmesan

● Peel and rinse the turnips and then slice them, preferably on a mandolin, to the thickness of a pound coin. Place in a bowl (no need to wash the slices), add the cream and crème fraîche beaten together and season with plenty of salt, freshly milled pepper and a hint of nutmeg.

● Rub an earthenware dish with garlic and then pour in the turnip mixture, cover with foil and bake at 160C for 45 minutes. The cream must cover the turnips and the oven must be gentle enough for it not to curdle. With little or no starch, the turnips should not break up.

● When tender, remove the foil and finish in a very hot oven or under the grill after sprinkling with Parmesan.


Rowley’s drinking choice

I can’t imagine a fine wine not being happy with this combination, and a very old wine might be slightly overwhelmed. I would probably go for a finely scented Northern Rhone but any Syrah/Shiraz will be comfortable.

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