The Scottish summer doesn’t offer many opportunities to dust off the barbecue and enjoy some al fresco carnivorism. So, on the all-too rare occasions when the sun splits the skies, it’s worth making the most of it - and when it comes to barbecued meat, it doesn’t get much better than lamb. Here, some of Scotland’s foremost chefs share their secrets to make the most of barbecued lamb.
Give it the whole shoulder treatment
“There is nothing quite like the sight of a whole shoulder of lamb sizzling on the barbecue,” drools Fraser Allan, executive chef at The Pompadour by Galvin, and Galvin Brasserie de Luxe in Edinburgh. “It’s best treated simply with an overnight marinade of olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Poke small holes in the meat with a sharp knife and insert your rosemary and garlic slices into the gaps.”
Allan also recommends letting the kitchen oven take some of the strain: “As this is a fairly dense cut of meat to cook fully on the barbecue, you will be best to start it off in the oven to avoid any undercooked surprises when carving the meat later on. Thirty minutes at 160C will be enough to get the shoulder on its way and you can finish the cooking on the top level of your barbecue to really impart that smoky aroma into the meat.
“A warm potato salad finished with nocellara olives and capers would be great alongside,” he adds.
Get it covered – marinate and wait
Making a marinade makes all the difference, according to Masterchef Professionals winner and chef at the acclaimed Golf Inn in Gullane, Derek Johnstone. “Any cut of lamb will barbecue well,” he says. “Time and marinades are the essence and help to give it that wow factor. If possible, keep the bone in the lamb when you’re barbecuing it. This will help to cook the marrow in the bone giving it even more flavour.”
Johnstone’s favourite barbecued lamb flavours come from North Africa and the Middle East. “Steer clear of butter and start with your finest olive oil. Add lots of rock salt then pick your favourite chillies, garlic, lemon, olives, sherry vinegars and minty yogurts. Mix it all together in your pestle and mortar and lather it on the lamb,” he says.
And don’t forget you can share the love with other dishes: “A marinade can be used more than once so don’t throw it out after you’ve finished marinating the lamb. As long as you keep it refrigerated you can keep on marinating things for four to six days. To serve, you can’t go wrong with a big chunk of crusty bread to mop up all the lamb juices and of course the obligatory dollop of mint sauce!”
…or go au naturale
“I am an old fart when it comes to marinades,” he declares.
“I would avoid marinating the lamb, as I am a defender of natural taste, and great meat needs its flavour preserved.
“Nothing beats a couple of Shetland cutlets seasoned lightly and cooked quickly on a very hot barbecue for two minutes each side. A lamb leg, bone out and sliced will have a fantastic flavour on its own.”
Put a lid on it
Patience is a virtue, says head chef of the Michelin-starred the Three Chimneys in Skye, Scott Davies. Especially when barbecuing his favourite cut - “a lamb version of a T-Bone steak known as a Barnsley Chop, providing saddle, fillet and loin of lamb all on one bone chop”.
“The knack is to let the barbecue settle down so it is not too hot and cook the chops with the lid closed to seal in all the developing flavours from the bone, the fat and the smokiness of the charcoal,” says Davies. “Keeping the barbecue lid closed also restricts the oxygen supply, preventing the barbecue from flaring up and burning the meat.”
Give it a rest
“Always rest the meat for at least half the time you have cooked it for,” says Scott Davies of the Three Chimneys. “I like to finish it off with a dressing of delicious bramble and fresh thyme vinaigrette to cut through the fat in the meat. As the meat rests it will take on the flavours of the bramble and thyme and you can always give the chops a final quick flash on the barbecue if you enjoy the meat especially hot.”