Lamb? Yes, please, but at Easter it ain’t Scottish

Lamb ShoulderOn many dinner tables this Easter Sunday, there will be a roast. Not as large as if the family was coming to visit, but lots of you will maintain a traditional feast on a smaller scale. And for many, perhaps even the majority, that will be sheep meat, almost certainly lamb. That’s a very fine thing and, of course, full of religious symbolism. But just don’t think that by eating it you are doing a darn thing to support Scottish farmers.

A quick agricultural lesson. Lambing time is about now, March/April. In Italy, particularly in Rome, they slaughter very very young lambs, which are still at the suckling stage, to make the classic abbachio alla Romana. That’s a great dish, but it’s not our practice. A lamb is technically a sheep up to one year old; however, most of what we eat as lamb here is three to six months old. I am told that there are a few places down south where  the lambs arrive very early in the year, but not up here. So do the math, as they say Stateside. Even with a late Easter there is not a snowball’s chance that what you are putting on your table comes from Scotland. Instead, a Scottish Easter is bringing large smiles to New Zealand sheep farmers. So, enjoy your agnus Dei representation this weekend, but put a note in your diary for July, August and September.

Lamb loin chopsJuly, a massive pan full of tiny sweet chops. In August, a warm Sunday (a flight of fancy, perhaps, but I confidently predict a long hot summer), a leg butterflied, marinaded and cooked on the barbecue. In September, as autumn approaches, a shoulder slow cooked on a bed of onion and potato (see a recent Tom Cooks! for a recipe). Or, post isolation, getting friends and family round a table to tuck into a roasted leg, studded with garlic and anchovy and perfumed with rosemary. All from Scotland.

Lamb ButterfliedI am glad to see that mutton is making a comeback, if you know where to find it. I love the depth of flavour you can get from the meat of a sheep aged two and over. Or hogget, the half way house. This is a sheep between one and two years of age, with more flavour than lamb, but lacking the strong, almost gamey flavour which puts some people off mutton.

Whisper this heresy very quietly, and don’t tell anyone I told you: it is possible to get quite decent beef steak in supermarkets these days if you’re careful. But for lamb, it has to come from a good butcher, who will not only be able to explain the provenance, but will be able to tell you what to do with every part of the animal. There is so much more than roasting and grilling.

Happy Easter – and the equally happy anticipation of lamb feasts in a few months.


On The Side will return at the end of April.


  1. Ruth Murray on 8th April 2020 at 8:43 am

    A few farmers do lamb indoors in November/December so there will be a few Scottish lambs available for Easter. However they will be few and far between. Thank you again for your support for Scottish farmers. We really appreciate it.

  2. Carol Main on 8th April 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Reading this, am glad to have take delivery of a fish order from Armstrong’s this morning. Will probably be a salmon tail for me on Sunday. Highly recommended. Thanks Tom!

  3. Callum Henderson on 8th April 2020 at 5:13 pm

    Another informative post. Best lamb we have had was in Segovia, Spain cooked in a traditional wood fired oven.

  4. Janet Hood on 8th April 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Had one of these amazing wee lambs in Girona a few years ago – delish – but I can imagine the “horror” here if they were a staple on anyone’s menu – eat local check out your Scotland Food and Drink web site for info re deliveries etc

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    • Tom Johnston on 10th May 2020 at 11:00 am

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