Make the most of the season’s produce with the help of chef and food writer, Gill Meller. Want to know why lamb is best eaten now? Gill explains why, and shares his autumnal lamb stew recipe, paired with seasonal winter squash and pearl barley for a heart-warming supper.
Photography: Gill Meller
It can be difficult to find out about the meat we are eating. Where has it come from? How was it raised? Who ran the farm? We hope that the animals we choose to eat have been cared for in a respectful and sustainable way. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. To know exactly what you’re eating, I recommend shopping directly from the producer as it’s easier to get the information you want this way.
The lamb I used in this recipe, for example, is produced by Andy and Jen at Fernhill Farm. During the warmer months of the year their Shetland sheep and lamb can be found grazing on the lush open pastures of the Mendip Hills. Their diet is natural, rich and diverse and as a result the flavour of the meat is truly exceptional. You might not think it, but the best time to eat outdoor-reared lamb is autumn and winter. Spring-born lambs allowed to graze the herbs, grasses and flowers of summer will be nicely fatted and full of flavour.
Buying meat like this offers the guarantee of a grass-fed animal that’s lived outdoors, and the further reassurance that the grass is grown naturally, without the excessive use of fertilisers or pesticides.
There are lots of delicious cuts of lamb available but I’ve always been a fan of shoulder. It’s a wonderful joint to roast whole, gently and for several hours, but it’s also excellent for stewing. This lamb stew recipe is a firm favourite – I like to make at least two or three times over the blustery autumn and winter months. I love the contrast in flavour and texture – rich savoury lamb goes so well with the sweetness of squash. I like to add nutty pearled barley, which is a grain I’m particularly fond of, but you could use pearled spelt instead. When it’s almost ready I add a fistful of chopped kale which tenderises in the last few moments of cooking.
Lamb, Squash & Pearl Barley Stew
This makes the perfect one-pot supper or simple Sunday lunch.
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 500g lamb or hogget shoulder, cubed
– salt and freshly ground black pepper
– 1 large or 2 smaller onions
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 2-3 sprigs of rosemary
– 2 bay leaves
– 1.2 litres of vegetable or lamb stock
– 1 medium squash (1kg), such as butternut
– 75g pearled barley, rinsed
– 1 bunch of curly or Tuscan kale, roughly chopped, tough stalks removed
1. Place a large heavy based pan or cast iron pot over a high heat. Add the olive oil, followed by the lamb or hogget. Season the meat with salt and pepper and fry on all sides until it’s beginning to colour (about 4-5 minutes).
2. Peel and slice the onions and garlic, then add to the pan with the rosemary and bay leaves. Continue to cook, stirring as you do, for 8-10 minutes. Pour over the stock and bring to a gentle simmer.
3. Cook the lamb, with a lid set just ajar, over a very low, gentle heat for about 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the meat is fairly tender.
4. Now, peel, deseed and cut the squash into 2cm cubes. Add the rinsed barley and cubes of squash to the pan and continue to simmer for a further 40 minutes. If the stew looks a little dry then add a dash of water. It should just cover the contents of the pan.
5. When the meat is lovely and tender and the squash is soft, add the chopped kale. Bring the stew back to a simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes with the lid on. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Stay tuned for more of Gill’s exclusive monthly recipes, celebrating the best of the season’s produce.
Love slow-cooking? Try this guide to the best meat cuts to slow-cook this season.