Soay sheep on the menu: an introduction

As promised, it is time to share recipes that showcase the mild-flavored, lean taste of Soay meat.  Let me set the stage.

When we decided to start eating Soay sheep meat, I cheerfully headed off to the bookstore and the kitchen stores to get myself a couple of good lamb cookbooks.  To my dismay, there were none — zero.  Being the good capitalistic American that I am, I can only conclude there is no market for lamb cookbooks.  Whether their demise is attributed to a shift away from red meat generally, or the fact that imported Australian lamb is too pricey, or to memories of all those awful, tough muttony meals we were served at “hot lunch” in the school cafeteria growing up, the sad fact is the lamb cookbook appears to have gone the way of the buggy whip.

Now here’s something I have not shared with my readers before:  I used to be a librarian.  Whatever else you can say about librarians, they never take “I can’t find it” for an answer.  Out here in the country, we are a little short on used bookstores, but a quick e-trip to the used book sections of the on-line bookstores turned up three “classic” lamb cookbooks that looked promising:   The Southern Heritage Beef, Veal & Lamb Cookbook, The Great Lamb Cookbook published by the Australian Women’s Weekly, and Madame Benoit’s Lamb Cookbook.  You may remember Madame Benoit as the author of the opening essay on our farm website about the joys of living in the country and raising sheep.  Madame Benoit was the Julia Childs of Canada and equally famous in her own country.  In fact, if you Google her, you’ll find an entertainingly old-fashioned video clip of one of her early cooking shows on TV.  Julia did not have a monopoly on this art form, even back in its rudimentary form in the 1950s.

But I digress.  The problem with the old lamb cookbooks is too many of the recipes call for layers of lard slathered on the roasts before cooking, or lots of bacon tucked in slits of the shanks, and any number of other fat-focused ingredients and methods for cooking the lamb.  I can only assume the lamb Madame Benoit and the other authors had at their disposal was tough, stringy, and dry.   Back to the drawing board.  Time to gather my own set of Soay recipes.

Before we moved out here in 2004, I had the accidental good fortune to come upon one of my all-time favorite recipes for lamb:  Lamb Shanks Reynolds Wrap.  It is just the right recipe to start this collection — tasty and almost embarrassingly easy.  L.S.R.W. came into my life one day when I was standing in the butcher shop near my home in the suburbs of Chicago ordering who knows what, and next to me a pleasant-looking woman asked for “lamb shanks, cracked” in an authoritative voice.  Having never even once cooked lamb at that point, I don’t know whether I was more surprised to hear about lamb “shanks” for the first time, or that the description of them as “cracked” came out of the mouth of such a sweet little senior citizen.  At least I had the presence of mind to ask her what she was going to do with them.  To my delight now, I also wrote down what she said and then had the continuing good luck to find that scrap of paper again when we moved out here and began having Soay sheep on our menu.  Here then, is the recipe, just as originally reported to me at Zier’s Meats in Illinois:

Lamb Shanks Reynolds Wrap

From now on, you will find lamb recipes every week or so in a printer-friendly setting on our farm website.  Look for “Soay sheep on the menu.”

Bon appetit!