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Alternatives to turkey this Christmas: roast lamb

by Genevieve Halbert

published on 20 November 2020

Not all Christmas traditions are universally popular – Christmas pudding is divisive, carolling doesn’t strike joy into every heart, and turkey is not everyone’s favourite meat. While we can’t guarantee that you won’t hear “O Come, All Ye Faithful” roughly one hundred times over the festive period, we can offer you some recipes for alternative Christmas dinner centrepieces. Why not swap turkey for a joint of lamb this year? Rich in flavour and endlessly versatile, lamb is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and whether slow-roasted on a bed of ratatouille or slathered in a Japanese-inspired miso glaze, it makes for a suitably celebratory centrepiece. Read on for our top tips for cooking lamb, as well as a collection of the best festive lamb recipes.

Tips for cooking the perfect roast lamb this Christmas

1. Cooking processes vary depending on the cut of lamb being used. Shoulder, leg, and neck are especially good when slow-roasted, as in Georgina Hayden’s slow-roast lamb with fresh dates, while rump and rack of lamb are very tender, so are usually served rare or medium-rare.

2. You can buy a leg or shoulder of lamb deboned or with the bone in. Deboned joints are easier to carve, while bone-in joints tend to have a richer flavour. 

3. As with any joint of meat, it’s important to remove your lamb from the fridge about one hour before cooking to allow it to come up to room temperature.

4. When it comes to rubs, Russell Norman, author of Venice, stresses the importance of pounding the ingredients into a smooth paste before rubbing it into the meat thoroughly with your hands to coat the joint and allow the flavours to soak in.

5. If you’re not slow-roasting your lamb, here are some helpful guidelines for cooking times: cook for 220°C (200°C fan) mark 7 for 20min to brown, then 190°C (170°C fan) mark 5 for 20min per 450g (1lb) for medium (pink), adding an extra 20min at the end if you want the meat well done. A meat thermometer is helpful in figuring out when your lamb is properly cooked. For lamb, rare is about 50°C, medium is about 60°C and well done is about 70°C.

A selection of recipes to try

Nadiya Hussain Lemon Lamb with Couscous

Nadiya Hussain’s Lemon Lamb with Jewelled Couscous

Just because it’s Christmas we’re talking about here, it doesn’t mean easy traybakes are off the menu. In fact, we actively encourage any recipes with time and effort-saving tricks to make your life easier on the big day. Enter Nadiya’s roast lamb traybake. Served on a bed of couscous, this simple roast lamb is packed with flavour thanks to a ras-el-hanout marinade, and finished with a festive scattering of pomegranate seeds.

Mary Berry’s French Slow-roast Lamb with Ratatouille

Mary Berry’s French Slow-roast Lamb with Ratatouille

A French-inspired dish from Mary Berry, this slow-roasted leg or shoulder of lamb is cooked on a bed of aubergines, red peppers, and tomatoes, resulting in a combination of beautifully tender meat and intensely flavoursome ratatouille.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Anchovy and Rosemary

Roast Leg of Lamb with Anchovy and Rosemary

by Russell Norman
from Venice

Russell Norman keeps things simple with this elegant recipe for roast lamb rubbed with garlic, anchovies, flaked sea salt and rosemary, and cooked in a white wine sauce.

Lamb Raan

Lamb Raan

For an Indian-inspired feast, try Meera Sodha’s lamb raan. It’s marinated overnight in spices, yoghurt, garlic, and ginger, then cooked low and slow. Serve with chutneys, naan, and spiced roasted vegetables.

Lamb Rump with Vanilla-Braised Chicory and Sorrel Pesto

Lamb Rump with Vanilla-Braised Chicory and Sorrel Pesto

by Yotam Ottolenghi, Ramael Scully

Ideal for a smaller gathering, this tender lamb rump is marinated overnight and served rare, with a refreshingly different side of vanilla-braised chicory. Sorrel is out of season in winter, so Ottolenghi recommends making the pesto with parsley and spinach instead.

Braised Lamb, Peas, Crème Fraîche and Mint

Braised Lamb, Peas, Crème Fraîche and Mint

by Trevor Gulliver, Fergus Henderson

Rich, aromatic, and wonderfully tender, this braised lamb from The Book of St John is a celebration of classic British flavours. It’s cooked for three hours in a sauce of white wine, crème fraîche, peas, and fresh herbs. Reserve any leftover braising juices to make a luxurious Boxing Day pasta sauce.

Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Fresh Dates

Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Fresh Dates

by Georgina Hayden
from Taverna

Bring a little Mediterranean sunshine to your Christmas dinner table with Georgina Hayden’s Cypriot-inspired lamb shoulder. Fresh dates might prove difficult to source in winter, but a combination of medjool dates and fresh orchard fruits makes an excellent substitute. 

Roast Rack of Lamb with Crushed Potatoes and Slowly caramelized garlic

Roast Rack of Lamb with Crushed Potatoes and Slowly caramelized garlic

This is another excellent option for those hosting a smaller gathering this year. A succulent rack of lamb flavoured with sweet, caramelised garlic, this is special enough for Christmas day but won’t leave you with too many leftovers.

Neck of Lamb with Miso Glaze

Neck of Lamb with Miso Glaze

by Tim Hayward

White miso paste and soy sauce might not be the first ingredients that come to mind when planning a roast dinner, but this sticky glazed lamb from Tim Hayward proves it’s a match made in heaven. The rich, umami flavour of the meat is offset by sweet, sticky honeyed carrots.

Roast Shoulder of Lamb with Couscous and Date Stuffing (Dala M’Aamra Bi Kesksou Wa Tmar)

Roast Shoulder of Lamb with Couscous and Date Stuffing (Dala M’Aamra Bi Kesksou Wa Tmar)

by Claudia Roden

With its sticky couscous and date stuffing, Claudia Roden’s roast lamb shoulder makes for an unusual but melt-in-the-mouth Christmas meal. The meat is cooked very slowly for several hours, until it’s so tender it can be pulled apart with your fingers.

Lamb Kleftiko

Lamb Kleftiko

Rick Stein suggests cooking a leg of lamb on a bed of potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic for a Greek-inspired, all-in-one meal. Crumble some salty feta cheese over the dish for an extra flavour boost.

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