ASK my father what his favourite roast is, he will reply that it's whatever meat he is eating right then. But for me, the sweetest, most succulent meat is roast lamb. From late July, spring lamb is at its best, so as we enter August it is no surprise to find Scotch lamb taking pride of place on our menu.

The term "spring lamb" causes confusion. I suspect this may be down to the marketing onslaught from overseas lamb producers: they want us to buy their lamb from (our) spring time, especially at Easter. It is certainly tempting. Drive around Fife then, for example, and there are endless fields full of new-born lambs. But they need the chance to grow, at least to mid summer – even August.

This natural ageing and slow growth creates good conformation, or body structure, and full muscle development – exactly what you need for a chance of good meat, great flavour and tenderness. After that, careful hanging and butchery finishes off meat born in spring: perfect for a glorious centrepiece now, at a time when fields once home to lambs, are dotted with hay bales. Is it a coincidence that spring lamb, roasted in August hay, makes a prime cut as delicious as it is luxurious? Enough, even, to convince my dad …

Rack of Scottish spring lamb baked in hay

Recipes serve 4

2 racks of lamb

Hay (enough to three-quarters fill a standard plastic carrier bag)

Several bushy sprigs of thyme and rosemary

Half a dozen cloves of garlic

Olive oil

Butter, about 60g

Sea salt flakes and fresh ground black pepper


1. Ask your butcher for seven-bone racks of scotch lamb, chine bone removed, and French-trimmed and elastin (a band of elastic-like sinew which runs the length of the meat) removed. The fat should be an even all-over coating, white to very pale cream, not yellow (dark fat indicates older meat – lovely, but not what you are paying for in lamb) and the meat a pleasing dull to dark pink colour, and dry as well. Wetness is a sign of immaturity, under-hanging or inadequate ageing

2. Hay (not straw) can be bought from farmers, pet shops or even (sometimes) large supermarkets.

3. Start the day before. Half-fill a large container or clean bucket with cold water. Place hay in a sink with the water container beside it. With shears or large scissors, cut the hay into roughly 20-30cm lengths, placing it into the water as you go. Push all the hay down so it is submerged and covered in water then leave to soak for at least 12 hours or up to 24. When you are ready to start cooking, lift the hay out of the water into a clean empty sink to drain.

4. Take a roasting dish large enough to hold hay and lamb, or two trays if necessary, with a rack on each tray. Line the base with a bed of hay; this must be longer than the length of the lamb rack and about two inches thick (thick enough to prevent the meat touching the metal tray).

5. Remove lamb from fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Pre-heat oven to 190C. Heat a large heavy-based frying pan for one minute. Add a light film of olive oil to the pan. Season the lamb racks on the fat side then sear the meat all over so the fat turns a dark gold colour (this will take several minutes). Halfway through sealing this side, add the thyme, rosemary and garlic. Continue browning then turn the rack over to brown the underside of the meat; add the butter, allowing it to froth up; spoon this over the meat as it finishes browning.

6. Once browned all over, remove meat from pan and place it, fat side up, on the bed of hay. Spoon the herbs and pan juices over the fat side of the meat. Now arrange a covering of the hay over the meat, the same thickness as the bed of hay. With scissors, trim off any protruding pieces of hay, so they don't catch on the oven.

7. Place in the middle of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, cook until the core reaches 54C.

8. Remove meat from oven and leave to rest, still in the hay. To finish, lift off the top layer of hay and discard. Lift the lamb onto a carving board and carve into cutlets and serve at once, ether like a traditional roast, or simply with some wilted spinach, new potatoes and a green salad

Grilled spicy lamb cutlets

3 to 4 cutlets per person, depending on size

1 tsp each of coriander, fennel and cumin seeds

A generous handful of coriander leaves

1 lime

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 shallots, peeled and finely diced

1 red chilli de-seeded and diced

6 tomatoes

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Drop the tomatoes in and boil for 10 seconds then lift out into cold water then drain once cold. Skin the tomatoes then chop the flesh (seeds and all) into even-sized dice.

2. Place the spice seeds in a pestle and mortar and crush a little. Heat a small to medium sized frying pan for half a minute then add a little olive oil. Fry the seeds for 30 seconds then add more oil and fry the shallots and garlic without colouring until soft. Add the chilli and tomatoes and their juice and continue cooking over a very gentle heat until the tomatoes collapse, making a paste-like sauce.

3. Remove from heat. Fold in the coriander leaves and lime zest and juice then leave to cool. This can be done in advance and refrigerated for 24 hours.

4. Once cool, add the lamb cutlets into the mix and spoon the marinade over. Marinade for 1-3 hours, spread out in an oven-proof dish.

5. Place the tray under a hot grill and cook for 6-8 minutes on the first side, then flip the lamb cutlets over and repeat, basting once or twice. Serve at once, perhaps with cous cous and a tomato salad

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, By S Andrews, Fife Ky15 5LH 01334 840206