Slow Roast Spiced Lamb Shoulder w/ Onion & Spiced Ale Gravy

A leg of lamb is grand… many folk admire the hind quarters of our woolly little friends, and often the front end goes by the wayside. Me? I’ll take a lamb shoulder by preference any day of the week. So much more character, excitement, and richness of flavour. The quick rare roast that is best for a leg isn’t appropriate here however — the shoulder needs time, do it long and sloooow.

My standard lamb flavourings are rosemary and garlic (along with most of the western world I expect). Mint sauce has a special place in my heart, that being on my grandmother’s dining table. The closest I’ll come to a mint sauce at home is a deep rich balsamic with a few shreds of good fresh mint in it. Anchovies too are a favourite friend of the lamb.

However, sometimes I take an entirely different twist on things. Take a more North African direction,  at least that’s how I think of it. The basic flavour blueprint is a combination of TANG and WARM SPICE. Tang in this recipe from sumac and lime, warm spice from star anise, coriander, cumin, & cardamom plus a rather spiced ale. What all this adds up to is what I dub “nose porn”, a slow roast that emits the most tantalising flavours while cooking. By the time it is ready you’ll have to restrain yourself lest you vacuum up the delicious flesh before even making it to the dining table, and subsequently lambsplode.

IngredientsOur ingredients…

  • A shoulder of British lamb
    (ensure you have a baking tin it fits in!)
  • 3 tablespoons of oil
    (I used Avo oil because I’m out of normal oil!)
  • 15g (a knob) of fresh ginger
  • Zest of a lime (plus a bit of its juice)
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
    (if using normal salt just use 1 teaspoon)
  • 3 teaspoons of sumac
  • 1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon of whole cardamom seeds (without the green husk!)
  • 330ml bottle of Belgian spiced ale
    • Commonly available around Christmas time, these are strong beers infused with various spices — especially star anise. One that I have tried recently that would work well is Affligem Noël.
    • I’ve actually used a British rendition of this style: Hardknott Rhetoric #1. This is a star anise infused Belgian-style quad.
  • 3 or 4 brown onions
  • 1 tablespoon of plain flour
  • 2 cloves of garlic — chopped and crushed

Preheat your oven to 250°C.

Dry Fry

Dry Fry

The nose porn beings immediately! Dry fry the spices. I do this in order from largest to smallest. Get a little frying pan hot and pop in the star anise lobes —1 minute— pop in the coriander seeds —30 seconds— pop in the cardamom seeds —1 minute— pop in the cumin seeds —1 minute— pour the lot into a pestle along with the salt. Grind and then mix in the sumac.

Grate the ginger, zest the lime — nose porn! Combine the ginger and zest with the oil.

Score Lamb

Score Lamb

Lightly score the top (fat side) of the lamb shoulder. Rub it all over with the oil mix, massage it in — who doesn’t like a good oily shoulder massage? Then coat all over with the dry spice mix. I use a little more on top than on the bottom.

Chop your onions in half, lop off the pointy ends, peel them, and slice lengthwise.

Oil the baking dish — this may have been achieved by using it when oiling the shoulder. Scatter the onion in the base of the baking dish and place the shoulder (top-up) onto the onion.



Place in the oven for a 15 to 25 minute sizzle. Make sure it browns off nicely, but doesn’t burn!

After the sizzle turn the oven temperature down to 120°C and pour the beer into the baking pan. Queue up some suitable music for hot steamy nose porn. Slowly roast for at least three hours, four was about perfect for me. (When done you should pretty much be able to slide a butter knife right through the thick part of the shoulder.)



Remove the shoulder from the roasting dish, pour the juices and onion into a saucepan, put the shoulder back in the roasting dish, cover and keep warm. (Should be fine in the now-turned-off oven.) Use a large kitchen spoon to remove as much fat as you can from the onions into a separate bowl. Then put the saucepan over the heat and reduce until you’re happy with the flavour (if you think it needs reducing at all!). In a different saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of the lamb fat and fry 1 tablespoon of plain flour in the fat until very lightly browned, add the garlic to this and sizzle for about 30 seconds. Now start adding juices from the onions a large spoonful at a time, whisking all the while. When you’ve got about a cup of liquid transferred mix the entirety of the rest of the onions and juices in. Add  fresh lime juice and salt, to taste. I added the juice of half a lime, giving the onion gravy a pleasing piquancy.

Serve!Carve the lamb at the table, sharing out pieces from the various parts of the shoulder. A lamb shoulder cooked like this makes for so many different flavours and textures. There’s the tasty crisp crust, the juicy internal meat, the unctuous fatty edges, the drier but very tasty meat from the leg, and the soft onion-and-beer infused meat from the underside. Serve a selection of these different meat experiences on a plate with a generous helping of onion & ale gravy… and enjoy.

Serve with side dishes of your choice. A bit of steamed cabbage in my case.

Hardknott Rhetoric Crème Brûlée

Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 Crème BrûléeCrème brûlée really isn’t at all difficult to make and it an excellent dessert to produce in bulk to impress people on special occasions. It also gives a great excuse to have a blowtorch in the kitchen.

This particularly rich crème brûlée is inspired by a trip to Musa Aberdeen back around the first BrewDog AGM. Kat had a Paradox Smokehead crème brûlée and has been talking about it ever since… our supply of Smokehead ran out long ago, so I set about putting together a version using a complex & tasty beer from Hardknott instead. Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 is described as “Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad” which hit me as a pretty good flavour element to add to the custard — anise spice combined with boozy Belgian body.


  • 300ml double cream (1 typical supermarket pot)
  • 100ml Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 (leaving plenty to enjoy while cooking)
  • 40g golden caster (plus a little more for later)
  • 4 good free-range eggs – yolks only


The tricky part of producing a crème brûlée is cooking it right. I suggest pre-preparing for the baking first.  You need to pre-heat your oven to 160C (gas mark 3, 325F) and have ramekins, or similar, ready for filling.  This recipe makes about 450ml of liquid and you should fill your ramekins close to their tops.  They should be baked in a hot water bath coming up about 2 thirds of their height.  To this end choose an appropriately deep oven dish to bake them in, preferably such that the rim of the oven dish is higher than that of the ramekins.  This allows you to place a baking tray over the top to keep the tops of the custards moist so they don’t brown.  Have a kettle full of water boiled and waiting.

In a small saucepan mix together the double cream and beer and then heat until just barely simmering

While the cream and beer mixture is heating beat the yolks and caster sugar together until thick and creamy.  Easiest to use an electric mixer for this.

When the double cream and beer is heated carefully whisk into the egg mixture. Don’t whisk too vigorously as then you’ll end up with a lot of foam. Once done let sit for half a minute then, using a large metal spoon, carefully skim off any foam (chef’s perk!)

Place ramekins into their baking dish and fill with the custard mixture, preferably to quite close to their rims. Then fill the dish with freshly boiled water to about 2 thirds up the height of the ramekins.  Place them in the oven, covering the baking dish with a flat pan but leaving a crack open at one edge to let excess steam escape.

Freshly Baked CustardsThese should need about 30 minutes in the oven, perhaps a little more.  When they’re done they should still be quite wobbly in the middle but not runny.  They seemed to have “fizzed” a little during cooking as the top surface was bubbly, not surprising given the light carbonation in the beer.  This didn’t seem to do them any damage however, but I’d not want to try it with a particularly fizzy beer.

Cool for a minute on a wire rack then get them into the fridge.  They should be in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving and are fine prepared a day in advance.

Torch It!When the time to serve them comes sprinkle with golden caster sugar until well coated.  Tip off excess sugar then evenly sprinkle over a little more.  Wipe clean the rims of the ramekins and make use of a blowtorch to brown the sugar thoroughly, don’t be afraid of a little smoke — but don’t overdo it!  This can also be done under a hot overhead grill.

Serve with a glass of Rhetoric Ed.1!

Hardknott Rhetoric Ed.1 Crème Brûlée

I made just two crème brûlées with this recipe.  Thoroughly decadent!  Larger custards also increases the baking time, to about 40 minutes.  I recommend using four smaller ramekins, about 120ml in size.  If you make 4 then you’re looking at something approaching 500 Calories each.  This is a very rich dessert, you have been warned…

#OpenTheRhetoric – Twitter & Beer Geerkey

@HardknottDave is a beer geek who also happens to be a brewer of some quite awesome beers. As with many small breweries the geekery doesn’t stop at the beer – Twitter[1] seems to have become a bit of a beer community phenomenon. I can keep tabs on the majority of the interesting UK beer scene by following a small knot of the UK beer hardcore, a collection of both brewers and drinkers. This is an incredibly useful research tool, the topic of research being “what beer should I buy/drink next?” Weighty and important stuff.

Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri - European Southern Observatory (ESO)

This Twitter “miniverse” is a loose-knit network of like-minded folk. If I were to visualise it it would be sort of like Omega Centauri. A dense highly connected core in the middle, folk constantly chatting about beer at a personal level. Here we find the @HardknottDaves (brewer), @MellissaColes (beer evangelist), @BeerReviewsAndys (beer blogger & beery IT), and @simonhjohnsons (enthusiastic drinker?) of the scene. These people generate the constant core thread of UK beer talk. As you get out towards the edges you pass through a dense zone of popular but less personally involved entities – accounts acting under the persona of a brewery/retailer/organisation – followed by many but interacting with few or none. Some, more centrally, take on a persona and interact 1:1 with many followers – such as @BrewDog – but have the kind of tinny hollow impersonal feeling of marketing. Others really are just one-way-spews of marketing announcements – though nevertheless of some interest. Finally as you gradually move out to the darkness of empty space you pass by the wider community of people who simply like beer and have the occasional interaction with the core. These folk dip in and out the the thread, a reply here and there, a retweet from time to time. Maybe once, maybe a couple of times a day.

This interesting and diverse community has given rise to a new class of “distributed event” – such as Twitter beer tastings. I’ve seen it done a few times, sometimes based around a whole selection of beers sold in a box for a Twitter “beer festival”, others a varied set of beers for a Twitter/blogger #OpenIt event. There are always a lot of interesting beers being consumed out there!

All this is beside the point in the title: #OpenTheRhetoric – a Twitter event for a Hardknott brewery special release. Rhetoric Ed.I – the first in a series of special beery one-offs by the brewery. This beer is described as “Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad” – if that doesn’t raise an eyebrow & pique your interest then you’re dead inside. An empty shell I tell you. Dave, Ann, and Alex at Hardknott distributed a small selection of Rhetoric to various beer bloggers and geeks prior to the official release, the beer wasn’t quite ready at the time (needed a little more bottle conditioning time) and we had to promise to not open it until the Hardknott beer-signal had been issued. I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a bottle when passing by the brewery to drop off empties from the Hitchin beer festival.

This sort of “one off” beer series isn’t a new idea. You could say it goes back a very long way in some respects – in the “old days” of brewing many beer batches would have been different from time to time, season to season. I can picture ye olde beerwives tossing something interesting into the brew, some warm spices in Christmas perhaps, a dead rat for a favoured cousin – then again I may be over-romanticising the past. Anyway, In more recent times real ale breweries in the UK often have a slot for a rotating “brewer playing around a little ale” (usually very conservative “playing”), sometimes such a brew works so well it becomes a permanent offering. Regardless of the format, releasing such varied beers is a great idea and an excellent service to those beer geeks like myself who’re more interested in change & difference than the tried and true & old and reliable. BrewDog are well known for this sort of thing in the form of their Abstrakt brand – so far I’ve religiously bought a few of every release (and still have at least 2 bottles of all of them). I’ve also recently noticed Arbor Ales doing a similar thing called “Freestyle Friday” – the 2012 Black IPA was particularly tasty, though a little over my bitterness threshold!

It especially tickles my interest when the beers are strong and have cellaring potential – full of hope we buy them and put them somewhere stable and once a year, say, we pop one open and enjoy the liquor within while radiating a self-satisfied smugness. Sometimes after a couple of years these beers taste like shoe polish & vinegar – with a small sob in remembrance of better times they’re interred in the u-bend of the sink.

Back to the beer that is, sadly, no longer at hand! You can read the original Rhetoric rhetoric here on Dave’s blog and you can read another blogger’s notes on the beer & event too. There are also, of course, a fair few comments lingering on Twitter, though they’ll vapourise in a short time. I see one RateBeer ticker got hold of it as well – it is also on Untappd thanks to myself.

I sampled Rhetoric Ed.I with about 8 other people, so I only had a few sips. It was also at the tail end of a day-long house-warming party. Thus I’m not going to offer any detailed thoughts on tasting notes and not make any attempt to give it any “rating” – I suspect we’re talking a 4, but maybe a 5, on Untappd from me. The aniseed was distinct, surely, but it wasn’t sickly & medicinal, Rhetoric came across as definitely beer not an alcopop oddity. I enjoyed the beer immensely – pleasingly everyone else who had a little enjoyed it too (to varying degrees). This includes a couple of folk who really aren’t keen on aniseed flavours at all, and another who really isn’t keen on beer full-stop. He also enjoyed the Hardknott Colonial Mayhem – there seems to be some strong beery evangelism built into Hardknott beer and I expect the conversions haven’t stopped at Hardknott Ann.

I’ll be buying some bottles of Rhetoric Ed.I – and so can you, while stocks last, just follow this link to the Hardknott shop!

[1] I’m not sure if there is any sort of similar projection of the community into Facebook – I don’t touch Facebook because it isn’t open, it isn’t friendly, it “farms” users much like dodgy food industries farm battery hens. I suspect Twitter may simply work better for the beer community due to its simplicity and openness.