Cooking lamb in hay imparts a wonderful fresh grassy flavour to the meat, with a hint of smokiness. This method ensures the lamb is tender, succulent and cooked to perfection. In this recipe I use leg of lamb, however I have seen other recipes that use rack.
I would recommend buying the best fresh lamb that your budget allows, as this dish is about showing off the quality of the meat. Ask your local butcher for salt marsh lamb (which is reared in many different coastal locations across the UK). The meat has darker colour, tends to be more lean, and has a sweeter flavour. In France, this type of lamb has long been treated as a delicacy (Agneau de pré-salé) and in the UK, we are starting to see greater recognition and prevalence of marsh-reared lamb. Quite often you see Romney lamb appearing in British butchers and restaurant menus – however this may actually be referring to the common breed of sheep, rather than being reared on the salt marshes of Romney. Luckily for us, our local Hove butcher Canham & Sons stock fresh Romney Marsh lamb when in season (late May, and into June).
I use a remote temperature probe to judge the cooking of the lamb in hay, as the timing can vary according to the size of the joint of meat, and whether it has a bone in. These gadgets aren’t essential, but do take the guess work out of the cooking process. We like our lamb cooked rare to medium (juicy and pink, but not too bloody), and so aim for an internal temperature of 58 degrees Celsius, before allowing the meat to rest.
Serve with boulangère or dauphinoise potatoes, and steamed buttered vegetables, making the lamb the star of the plate. While red Rioja is often a good match to lamb, I think it could be a little over-powering for the subtleties of this dish. I chose a Côtes du Ventoux, from the southern Rhone, which made a good match. A medium to light-bodied red, with fresh red fruit, mineral and herbaceous flavour notes.
Skill Level: Moderate (although tricky without a temperature probe!)
Equipment required: Large cast iron casserole dish with lid, remote temperature probe (optional)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 45-60 minutes
Half-leg of lamb (preferably bone in)
Hay (Clean, dust-free hay sold from a pet shop as animal feed)
Vegetable oil for frying
Step 1: Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Heat a dash of oil in your casserole dish on the stove. Season the lamb with a little salt, and when the oil is just starting to smoke, begin to brown the meat in the dish. Turn the meat frequently, ensuring that the meat is sealed, and has been browned all over. Remove the meat from the dish and set aside.
Step 2: Into the hot oil add a whole sprig of rosemary, and a large handful of hay. If you are using a gas hob, take particular care as dry hay catches fire easily when exposed to a naked flame! As the hay begins to smoke, place the lamb back into the dish on top of the hay. Add more hay around and on top of the meat. Insert your remote probe (if you have one) deep into the meat, and pour a small cup of water over the hay, and around the meat. Quickly place a lid on the dish and place into the oven. The water will prevent the hay from burning too much, and produce steam that helps to evenly cook the meat.
Step 3: Once the casserole is in the oven, cook for approximately 25-30 minutes (medium rare for a relatively large half-leg joint). Or until the internal temperature is just below your desired level.
Step 4: Remove the lamb from the hay and set aside to rest for at least 10 minutes. As the meat rests, the internal temperature will continue to climb. Your will need to spend a little time picking the hay off the outside of the meat! Carve when ready to serve.
Find Flavour Seeker on social media: