We somehow grow-up knowing and not questioning what sauce to expect alongside our Sunday roast. Like roast pork and apple sauce, or venison and rich berry jellies, these are flavour partnerships deeply ingrained in British food culture.
I’d never given a second thought as to how or why until Dorothy Hartley opened my eyes to an idea that’s as obvious as it is romantic. She wrote in her 1950s ‘Food in England’ that it is: “very important to flavour the joint of meat with the flavour of the food the animal ate”. (In truth the scope of Dorothy’s book stretched far beyond England’s post-war years. She was looking at ways of cooking that have woven through our combined nations’ kitchens and farms for hundreds of years.)
Today we have no problem accepting that the taste of meat can be influenced by what the animal eats. It’s only a very short step of logic to see how the accompaniments we serve capitalise on and enhance those flavours.
Salt-marsh lamb’s extraordinary depth of flavour is helped along by the seaweeds and grasses they graze on by the western estuaries. They have been tucking into samphire and laver weed and we should too. Salt-marsh lamb and samphire are now fairly easy to buy when their seasons come around. Laver is a bit trickier so any opportunity to get some should be grabbed – the Welsh speciality of laverbread would be the ultimate salt-marsh lamb sauce.
Mint sauce is, of course, lamb’s most usual saucy partner. Hartley talks about the Welsh lambs grazing in the valleys where wild mint grew wildly as being where that flavour affinity comes from.
Making your own with fresh mint, vinegar, water and sugar is almost quicker than wrestling with the too-tight lid of a supermarket jar.
You will need:
The leaves from two big handfuls of fresh mint
2tsp white sugar
1tbsp boiling water
1.5 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
Chop the mint very finely. Heat in a saucepan the vinegar, water and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Add to the mint and stir.
The vinegar acts as a preservative so once made your sauce can be kept in a sterilised jar for up to 3 months or so.