Northern Ireland lamb is beautiful and we really should embrace it

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I’ve been approached lately by a few sheep farmers about trying to encourage more people to eat lamb and I never argue or ignore a farmer!

Like our beef, the lamb here enjoys the benefits of lush green land and natural pastures, resulting in flavoursome meat. I would love someone to explain why we continue to bring in New Zealand lamb to this country and seem to be able to sell it cheaper, despite the shipping costs or airmiles, than our own more superior product.

As long as we continue to buy cheap imports, the supermarkets will not give local farmers a fair deal on their product. We used to have a thriving clothing industry in this country, employing countless people, that has disappeared thanks to conglomerates using factories abroad with questionable ethics. You just have to look at the horse meat scandal to see what happens when profit and greed overtake fairness and basic good sense.

Aside from the political aspect, our lamb is better. A few Easters ago a friend’s husband gave me a leg of Clogher lamb which I cooked alongside a New Zealand one my mother had roasted (don’t worry she gets a lecture on her purchasing habits on a regular basis).

The difference in taste, texture and flavour was outstanding – you couldn’t compare the delicious Northern Irish leg with the insipid one that had flown 12,000 miles. It is slightly more expensive but you really do get what you pay for and its a small price to pay to contribute to a worthwhile, iconic brand?

But there’s more to lamb than just the leg or more expensive cuts. Minced lamb is packed with meaty flavour and will stand up to punchy ingredients. The first recipe this week uses mince to top a flatbread. I’ve added feta but you could use any white cheese like cheddar or any good local cheese. Mint and lamb have a natural affinity and a cool yoghurt mixed with this aromatic herb will cut through the spiciness of the lamb. Some pickled tomatoes add a zingy dimension.

When I ran my restaurant, over 20 years ago now, the butcher used to give me lamb shanks for free (it was me or the local dogs!) and I braised them for hours and they always went down really well. He soon caught on and started selling them in his shop and then charged me 50p a pop which was still very fair.

I noticed a similar situation with lamb bellies – the butchers were practically giving them away. They’ve gone up in price but are still a very economical cut. Sometimes I sprinkle them with herbs and garlic, roll them and tie them with butcher’s string and braise with red wine and vegetables. They also work well finished off on the barbecue. If you braise them flat first with aromatics and wine and then finish them off on the grill, with a reduction of the braising juices to glaze them, the meat is tender and a real texture change to grilled expensive cuts.

Lamb is a beautiful meat that we really need to embrace more – and make a farmer happy along the way is a win/win situation in my book!