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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

Best Roast Lamb Recipes for Christmas Mary Berry

Mary Berry's French Slow-roast Lamb with Ratatouille from Simple Comforts by Mary Berry

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.

From the book

Mary Berry

Roast Leg of Lamb with Anchovy and Rosemary from Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking by Russell Norman

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.

Order your copy of Venice: Four Seasons of Home Cooking from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Lamb Raan from Made in India: Cooked in Britain: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen by Meera Sodha

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.

Order your copy of Made in India from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Lamb Rump with Vanilla-Braised Chicory and Sorrel Pesto from NOPI: The Cookbook 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.

Order a copy of NOPI now from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Braised Lamb, Peas, Crème Fraîche and Mint from The Book of St John: Still a Kind of British Cooking by Fergus Henderson & Trevor Gulliver

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.

Order your copy of The Book of St John from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder with Fresh Dates from Taverna: Recipes From a Cypriot Kitchen by Georgina Hayden

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. 

Order your copy of Taverna from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop

Roast Rack of Lamb with Crushed Potatoes and Slowly caramelized garlic from Rick Stein's French Odyssey by Rick Stein

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.

Order your copy of Rick Stein's French Odyssey from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Neck of Lamb with Miso Glaze from Food DIY: How to Make Your Own Everything 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.

Order your copy of Food DIY: How to Make Your Own Everything from Waterstones or Amazon.

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

Order your copy of Arabesque from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.

Lamb Kleftiko from Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul by Rick Stein

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.

Order a copy of Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul from Waterstones, Amazon, or an independent bookshop.


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