I decided to go slightly trad for Sunday lunch, and roasted a leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic and rosemary. Slow-cooked, I knew it would be a winner. A leek and potato bake, and some steamed veggies on the side–winner, winner Sunday dinner, right?
“And mint sauce,” Pam-In-Law insisted. “You have to make mint sauce.”
Ah. Right. Here's the thing. Traditional English mint sauce is something I haven't eaten in years, and have never made. I was never really a fan when I was a kid: I was a fairly pernickety eater, and that weird green stuff Dad ladled onto the plate alongside my roast beast was studiously ignored.
The notion of a mint-laden sauce with lamb isn't a dumb idea, of course. Tradition has roots in good sense, especially when it comes to matters of the table. I'd happily serve a dollop of green-flecked yoghurt, or a salsa verde, sharp and salty with capers, lemon and the herbs that are starting to rouse in the garden alongside the lamb. Mint sauce? A new one on me. But I like a challenge, and Pam had done sterling service in the garden over the weekend. The least I could do was give her the Sunday lunch she wanted.
It turns out that mint sauce is a doddle. A big handful of finely chopped mint go into a mix of 150ml of malt vinegar and 50g of demerara. It's made in seconds in a food processor, as long as you give it a little time to let the sugar dissolve. It worked really well with the lamb: sweet-sharp, astringent from the herb, the whole knitting together to cut cleanly through the fattiness of the meat.
What struck me was how Asiatic it tasted. That 3:1 acid to sugar ratio is the starting point to a lot of dipping sauces that would be spot on with sizzling prawn or chicken skewers–a sweet-sharp hit that makes the whole thing dance in your mouth. With that base in place, it's easy-peasy to jazz up the flavours. The trick is to chop anything that you want to put into the sauce as finely as possible.
Here's my take on a thin sauce that would dazzle with any grilled or roast meat, or seafood.
The 3:1 base is of course, a must–the bedrock on which you build everything else. But try a red or white wine vinegar instead of the malt, and honey rather than demerara. The two will blend more easily. A finely minced shallot and clove of garlic add pep and bite, and a fresh chili for a zap of heat. Ginger? Why not?
Then herbs: mint, of course, but why not some basil, parsley, oregano and even dill? Tweak the mix of greenery depending on your tastes and what's available, but make sure not to stint on it. A good big handful, please. You notice I've not mentioned coriander. Not a fan of the leaf, I'm afraid, but you go ahead.
Actually, while we're thinking about it, a little cumin and coriander powder would be nice. And salt and pepper, of course. What was I thinking by missing them out?
My trusty stick blender has a mini-food processor that clips onto the end, which means I can stuff all the ingredients in, give it a blast and hey bingo, sauce is served. For speed, this really needs to go through a blender, but if you have the time and inclination to chop everything by hand, go do it to it. Just make sure the herbs and hard ingredients are really finely chopped. The greens should be no bigger than the contents of a tea bag.
Try this and serve it with the next big roast you make. I think you'll be surprised at how well it works. I plan on giving some to Pam. I hope she'll approve.
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