“This dish is a celebration of spring,” says Eddy Rains, head chef at The Wheatsheaf – a rural village pub, perched just outside Bath.
“Wild garlic seems to come out earlier every year, and it’s one of my favourite ingredients. My two girls love helping me forage.
“If you think the dish is a little complicated, it can be easily simplified (but remain equally delicious) by dropping the crispy shoulder and using just the rack or rump. If I had to choose, I’d keep the rump – it has more flavour and you get more for your money.”
If you do include the rack, ask your butcher to French trim it for you, but make sure you ask for those trimmings of fat back for the sauce.
Image: Ed Schofield
Season the lamb shoulder and colour in a hot frying pan until browned all over. Then add to a large saucepan with half the red wine and the wild garlic stalks. Cover with cold water and baking parchment, bring to the boil, then simmer for 4 hours or until very tender.
When cooked, remove the lamb, reserving the stock for the sauce, and shred the meat with a fork into a bowl.
Check the seasoning and add the mint sauce. Roll into 4 balls, place them on a tray and leave in the fridge to chill. Once chilled, dust in flour, roll in egg and finish with breadcrumbs. Return to the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Peel and finely slice the potatoes with a mandoline or sharp knife and melt 125g of the butter. Line a roasting tray with baking parchment and start layering it up with potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper and adding the butter as you go. When you’re half-way through, spread 200g of the wild garlic leaves over the potato, then continue with the rest of the slices on top. Cover with parchment and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until a knife will pass through with no resistance.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, gently sweat the onion in oil. Add the other half of red wine and the rosemary springs and reduce over a medium heat until you get a syrupy consistency (about 10-20 minutes).
Fry the lamb fat until crispy and golden brown. Strain through a colander, keeping the oil for another day (good news for roasties!). Add the crispy fat to the pot with the wine, along with the reserved cooking liquor from the lamb shoulder. Gently reduce until you achieve the desired sauce consistency and the ultimate lamb flavour from the fat. Then strain the sauce through a fine sieve. (The saucy, crispy lamb fat bits are chef’s perks!)
Season the lamb rack with salt and pepper, and brown all over in a hot pan. Put the pan in the oven (still at 180C/350F/gas mark 4), with the lamb skin side down. After 8 minutes, stand the rack up in the pan and cook for a further 4 minutes before removing and leaving to cool. Repeat the process with the rump, browning it first and then cooking in the oven, skin side down, for 8 minutes. Then, remove the meat and leave it to rest for at least 4 minutes before slicing.
Heat enough vegetable oil for deep frying in a heavy-bottomed pan to 180C. As it comes up to temperature, deep fry some garlic leaves (about
160C is perfect) until crisp. Make sure they’re dry before you drop them in, and be careful as they can spit. Cook the breaded balls in the oil for 2 minutes.
For the wild garlic purée, melt the remaining 75g butter in a pan, add the defrosted peas and the remaining 500g wild garlic. Just cover with water, bring to the boil, then transfer to a blender and blend – do this immediately, to keep the colour.
To plate, add a dollop of the purée to the plate and use the back of the spoon to spread it. Portion the potato into four and add it to the centre. Slice the lamb rack and rump, and place on top with a deep-fried ball of shoulder meat. Finish with the lamb sauce.