A fillet of lamb – the long, lean strip of meat from the loin – has no bones to pick at, no wrapping of fat to keep it succulent, and none of the crisp-skinned majesty of a glistening shoulder of lamb in its roasting tin. Yet it remains a useful, elegant cut. Lean as a whippet, with no sinew to remove, it can be on the plate in the time it takes to lay the table, make the salad and open the wine. It is useful, quick to cook, neat and fairly cheap.
But the fillet needs our help if it is to be truly delicious. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – lots of it – some black olives, a spice paste, maybe a thin sauce made from the roasting juices and a glug or two from the Marsala bottle. I have roasted it successfully with a paste made from rosemary, garlic and olive oil, and another from sundried tomatoes in oil and fresh basil leaves. You can smear it with mild mustard or pesto before roasting, introducing an intriguing crust around the rare meat. Once or twice I have spread it with mustard and coated it in breadcrumbs, too.
This is not a cut for those who take their meat well done. Rose pink is preferable for something as lean as this. One fillet will serve two, cut into strips as thick as a finger. To bulk it out I toss it with lightly steamed spinach leaves, a tomato salsa or a mixture of salad leaves, using the olive oil and juices in which it roasted, spiked with a dash of red wine or sherry vinegar, as a dressing.
This is not to be confused with neck fillet which is a much more hardworking joint altogether, and one for the pot. Slow cooking in liquid is probably the best way to go with that one.
I find it useful to sizzle a loin fillet of lamb in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes before putting it into a very hot oven. It encourages a delicious outer crust. Rosemary or thyme sprigs go in the pan, and maybe a crushed clove of garlic, too. What you bring to the table is a mini Sunday roast, easy to carve and sweet as a nut. The lack of bones and fat and the size means this is not a cut for a feast. But its usefulness and speed is what gives it space in my kitchen.
As the lamb cooks, the slices of ciabatta soak up the olive oil and juices from the meat.
lamb fillets 2, large
bushy rosemary sprigs 4
Extra virgin olive oil 100ml
ciabatta 4 thick slices
black olives 60g
mixed salad leaves 2 large handfuls
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Season the lamb fillets with salt and pepper. Bash the whole rosemary sprigs lightly with a pestle or rolling pin to realise their oil. Warm the olive oil in a roasting tin, add the lamb and brown evenly for no more than a couple of minutes, on all sides.
Put the slices of ciabatta in the roasting tin, turning them in the oil to moisten them, then place the lamb fillets on the bread. Tuck a couple of the rosemary sprigs under the lamb, and the remainder on top. Tip the olives into the pan then roast for 15 minutes. Wash the salad leaves.
Remove the meat from the oven and leave to rest, covering the tin with foil, for about eight minutes, then remove the fillets from the bread and slice into thick pieces. Divide the bread, which will have soaked up the oil, between four warm plates.
Toss the slices of lamb with the salad leaves and pile on top of the ciabatta. Trickle over any remaining juices from the roasting tin, scatter over the olives and a pinch or two of sea salt flakes, and serve.
Recipe by Nagel SlaterRecipe: Roast lamb with olives and ciabatta in Extra Virgin Olive Oil,