When people think of lamb, they’re generally drawn to the chops or the fillets, perhaps a leg for a roast or a shank for a warm winter soup. Unfortunately, a cut that is often overlooked is the lamb saddle. A middle cut, the saddle contains both loins of the animal and can be used as a beautiful (and fast cooking) roasting cut. What I love the most about the saddle is how well it presents when stuffed and how impressive it looks when you serve it up at a gathering!
This is a fatty dish (it’s lamb!) so I always try to serve it with something that will cut through that fattiness. In this case, I served it with a simple tabbouleh, which has a big shot of lemon juice in it to help balance out that rich lamb. The sharpness of the red wine in the sauce in this recipe helps a lot too!
There are a few things to consider when cooking a large cut of meat like the saddle. Firstly, you will have to order this specially through your butcher. For the simplest option, ask your butcher for just the saddle, with all bones removed.
If you enjoy meat preparation, you can save yourself money by ordering the entire barrel of lamb (the entire middle cut, with the ribs and flanks attached) and breaking it down yourself.
This can be a great learning experience and will yield you a lot of lamb and bones to freeze down for the coming weeks. Make sure you have something to do with all of the meat though, as it will be around 6kg!
Another thing to consider for this recipe is the amount of space you will require in your oven. I found that a 45cm tray accommodated my lamb saddle, but they can vary in size and you might need a slightly bigger one. I have had great success cooking this recipe Dutch Oven-style on the barbeque, so if your oven is a bit too small you can cook it this way instead.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 3-8 hours
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 lamb saddle (3-4kg approx.)
- 2 litres (8.5 cups) vegetable stock
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 250ml (1 cup) red wine
- 50g butter
- 1 tsp sugar (white or raw)
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme (½ tbsp dried thyme)
- 4 shallots
- 2 medium eggplants
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp fresh (1 tbsp dried thyme)
- 1 small handful fresh oregano (1 tbsp dried oregano)
- 1.5 tbsp cumin
- 1.5 tbsp sumac
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1.5 tsp turmeric
- Large (45cm+) tray suitable for stove-top use
- Cooking/Butcher’s twine
- Large bowl
- Small pot
- Large Chopping board
- Large non-stick pan
- 2 pairs of tongs or 1 pair of large barbeque tongs (for moving the lamb)
For the Stuffing
- First, peel the shallots and garlic and roughly slice them. Dice the eggplant into 2cm cubes and put it into a large bowl. Add the turmeric, sumac, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil to the bowl and mix thoroughly until the eggplant is coated in the spice mix. Shred up the oregano and remove the leaves from the thyme stalks.
- Heat up a pan with a splash of vegetable oil in it. Sauté the shallots and garlic in a pan until the shallots start to go translucent.
- Now, add the eggplant and the herbs, and cook them on a medium heat until the eggplant begins to soften. When the eggplant has softened sufficiently, add the tomato and cooking for a further two minutes, stirring thoroughly.
- Once all ingredients are cooked, remove from the heat and put the stuffing in the fridge for about 5 minutes to cool.
Rolling and Trussing the Lamb
- Place the saddle on the chopping board skin-side down and, once the stuffing has been cooled in the fridge, fill up the cavity where the spine was with the stuffing mix. If your butcher gave you the fillets or excess meat from breaking down the saddle, you can stuff that in there also.
- Roll the lamb up tightly, with the fold resting underneath the lamb.
- For the trussing, pull out about 20cm of twine and create a large loop with a knot holding it in place. Take that loop and pull it over the lamb, with the knot on the side closest to you. Tighten the loop by pulling the long end of the string.
- Create another loop around your hand and pull it around the lamb again, bringing it down about 5 centimetres (2 inches) further down the meat than previously. Continue this process until the entire lamb is trussed and then tie the string off with a tight knot.
If you find this technique a bit complicated, you can simply wrap the string around the lamb until you have it held together tightly and then tie it off with a knot at the end.
Cooking the Lamb
*Before you start this step, preheat your oven to 170°C (338°F, gas mark 3).
- Take the tray you plan to use and place it on the stove on a medium heat. If you don’t have a tray that can be used on a hob, you can use a casserole dish or seal the lamb on a barbeque. Seal the lamb on all sides, ensuring even colouration. Discard any fat that comes off it during the process, as we want to render some of it out.
- You want the lamb to have some slight colour on it, but we’re not trying to actually cook the meat here, just a light browning will do.
- Take the tray off the stove and pour 1.5 litres of the vegetable stock into it or as much liquid as it takes to fill the tray halfway up the lamb. Break the cinnamon stick in half and put it into the liquid. If the liquid doesn’t quite reach high enough, just add some water until it does.
- Remember to hold onto 500ml of your vegetable stock as we will use it later for the sauce!
- This cut of lamb can be cooked for as little as 3 hours or as much as 8. The longer you cook it, the more the fat will render and the more the flavours will soak into the meat, so the longer the better. I cooked mine for about 5 hours and it was beautiful, but if I had the time I would cook it for 8 to really get the stuffing flavours soaked into the meat.
- Turn the meat every 30 minutes or so to help break down the fat while it cooks.
Making the Reduction
- About 20 minutes before the lamb is done, in a small saucepan, take the 500ml of stock you set aside earlier and add the red wine and thyme to it. Bring the liquid to the boil and add the sugar along with a touch of salt and pepper. Leave it bubbling away on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until reduced by approximately two thirds. Make sure to check on it and give it a stir occasionally to make sure it doesn’t over-reduce.
- When the sauce has reduced by two thirds, take the thyme out and remove the sauce from the heat. Add the butter and stir continuously until the butter has emulsified. Serve on the side or pour it over the lamb for your guests.
- You can use some of the braising liquid from the lamb to make the sauce, but be aware that the liquid becomes very fatty during the cooking process; I recommend vegetable stock for this reason.
This has to be my favourite way to cook lamb. I love how tender the meat gets and how well the flavours from the stuffing permeate the meat. What’s great about this dish is that you can stuff the lamb however you like. You could make a spinach and feta stuffing for something lighter or a parsnip and rosemary stuffing that’ll see you through the winter. I personally love how tabbouleh cuts through the fattiness of the lamb, but you could serve this with more traditional roasted vegetables or even just a fresh tzatziki with a touch of mint.
The stuffing on its own is delicious, so if you end up with some left over you can add some chickpeas and dukkah to it and make it into an extremely flavourful curry.
I should point out that if you don’t want to braise the meat, this cut is also beautiful for roasting and cooks surprisingly quickly for its size. The skin also crisps up beautifully when cooked this way!
If you have a large event coming up, such as a family barbeque or a gathering with friends, forego the usual leg of lamb and instead give the saddle a go. It’s sure to impress!