Consumers are still eating meat in the recession, but tough economic times have meant that many have had to seriously rethink their choice of protein. Fillet steaks are firmly off the menu for many customers, who are trading down to cheaper cuts or switching from pricey red meats to fish and pork. To make matters worse, the price of red meat is rising, as UK livestock production falls. Lamb, in particular, has become significantly more expensive, with prices up an average of 20% since last year. This is why Jenny Jones, chef and proprietor of the Wheatsheaf pub in Hampshire, decided to create this delicious, affordable dish using lamb breast - a cut that is long forgotten among butchers, chefs and customers alike.
"A lot of people are scared by breast of lamb; they don't know how to prepare it and think it is fatty, but it is actually a very versatile and tasty meat," she explains. "This dish is very easy to prepare and just needs heating up, which means a butcher could prepare it and sell it ready for the oven."
Lamb breast is still incredibly cheap, so it gives fantastic profit returns. Jenny estimates each portion only costs her around 70p.
"Butchers could either sell pre-prepared portions as a ready-meal or sell the whole, prepared breast, which will serve around four to six people," she says. "Either way, you can make a really good profit, while still offering the customer a very affordable lamb product."
The low cost of lamb breast means that Jenny can use local organic meat and still keep costs down. "This is a big plus because people are much more into value for money then 18 months ago and if you can tell them that the meat is sourced locally and is the best quality, that adds a lot of value in their eyes," she says. For butchers who buy in whole lamb carcases, the sale of this 'giveaway' cut will help maximise profit and offset some of the price increases on lamb.
Having experimented with different fillings and accompaniments, Jenny says that the dish could be easily adapted to sell all year round. "At the moment, we are selling it with an apricot stuffing, but I have also recently developed a BBQ version using a mint mix," she says. "For Christmas you could try a cranberry stuffing. There is just so much you can do with it."
Aside from offering versatility and fantastic value for money, lamb breast offers something of vital importance to the modern butcher - a point of difference from the supermarkets. "You don't see it in the supermarkets because they just don't stock it yet," Jenny points out. "It gives butchers something different to sell."
The dish impressed butchers and chefs at the recent EBLEX lamb festival, who were surprised at just how easy it is to prepare. "People just couldn't believe how quick it is, and what good value for money it offers," she says.
It has also gone down a storm with Jenny's customers. "The response so far has been really positive," she says. "It appeals to all generations; young people just love it and older people remember the cut from their younger days. It's definitely a best-seller."
Confit Rosemary Breast of Lamb with Pearl Barley Shallot & Caper Stuffing
1. For the stuffing, cook the pearl barley in water for approximately 35-40 minutes, drain and allow to cool. Meanwhile, sauté the shallots in the butter. Mix together the barley, capers, seasoning and sautéed shallots. Add one egg and mix thoroughly.
2. Lay the breast of lamb flat and season well. Spread the spinach, lemon zest and garlic on top.
3. Lay the stuffing on top of the spinach mixture and roll up. Tie with string and season.
4. Brown all over, remove from the pan and sprinkle with the rosemary.
5. Roll tightly in seven layers of cling film lengthways and seal tightly. Or alternatively, vacuum-pack if available.
6. Cook submerged in a water bath in a moderate oven (160°C/140°C fan assisted) for approximately three hours or until tender. Unwrap and reserve the juices, rewrap in another seven layers of cling film to set shape. Chill until required.
Breast of lamb, deboned and flattened
Fresh spinach 75g
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, sliced
Rosemary leaves, finely chopped 2 tbsp
Pearl Barley, shallot & caper stuffing
Pearl barley 5g
Shallots, chopped 2
Salted capers, rinsed and drained 1 tbsp
1 egg, beaten