My modest home town of Todmorden boasts four butchers. Which is remarkable these days. Three in the Market Hall (voted Britain’s best small market in 2018) and another around the corner. There’s one I go to especially for good value game birds; another is the place for rose veal, Dexter beef and free range chickens, while Bracewell’s regularly buys in whole Pitlochry venison carcasses and salt marsh lamb from Cumbria. And stocks trip, too, if that’s your bag.
An extra bonus on Saturdays is the outside stall run by Long Causeway Trading. Run by Alison Eason and Sharon Akerboom, once of Levenhulme’s legendary That Cafe, it offers a home-made cornucopia from imaginative savoury and sweet tarts to addictive Seville orange and Jura whisky marmalade. But the real draw for me is the lucky dip line-up of cool boxes containing all manner of meats, frozen and fresh, from their farm.
A recent Saturday serendipity was offal driven. I lifted up one lid to discover lamb hearts. I had to buy. Just an hour before over my breakfast coffee I’d had a ‘nose to tail’ flashback (I know it sounds painful) as I read Giles Coren’s Times review of the unlikely, belated arrival, in Marylebone of all places, of a third St John restaurant. Hearts, kidneys, trotters, roast bone marrow. As with so many folk, they all formed part of our Fergus Henderson epiphany at the original restaurant near Smithfield market. Alas, rolled pig’s spleen, say, was a step too far.
With his revelatory elevation of cheap cuts Fergus is arguably the most influential chef/restaurateur of the past three decades. When in New York I couldn’t resist the allure of April Bloomfield’s The Spotted Pig in the West Village. This uncompromising gastropub, which closed in 2020, used to hold an annual Fergus-Stock event with its culinary hero in attendance – “known for his kooky demeanour and round, large eyeglasses” wrote one starstruck critic.
All of which is a roundabout way to those 60p a shot lamb hearts… and what did I do with them? I followed Fergus, of course. Not the recipe in 1999’s Nose To Tail Eating, which entailed (sic) elaborate stuffing, stock and red wine. Instead I went for the fresher treatment given in The Book of St John (2019) – Grilled Lamb’s Hearts, Peas and Mint. It was quite a treat for me and the dogs enjoyed the fatty carapace I cut off the grilled hearts.
Here’s the recipe (to serve 6, or 3 as a main course, 1 good-sized lamb’s heart will suffice as a starter, 2 each as a main course)… I had to substitute frozen peas.
Ingredients 6 lamb’s hearts, marinated overnight in balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, thyme, parsley stalks, sliced garlic; 8 spring onions, trimmed and cleaned; 3 heads of little gem lettuce, washed and separated; 2 large handfuls of freshly podded peas; a handful of pea shoots per person; large handful of extra fine capers,
For the mint dressing: 1 large bunch of mint, picked and stalks retained; 80g demerara sugar; 200ml malt or red wine vinegar; 100ml extra virgin olive oil; sea salt and black pepper.
Method First make the mint dressing. Bash the mint stalks with the back of a knife and place in a small pan with the demerara sugar and vinegar. Bring to a simmer for just long enough to melt the sugar, then set aside to cool thoroughly and infuse. Once ready, finely chop the mint and strain the cold vinegar over the leaves. Whisk in the olive oil, seasoning to taste.
To cook the lamb’s hearts you will need a cast-iron griddle or barbecue. Your hearts should be room temperature, not fridge cold, and the grill should be ferociously hot. Season boldly and place the hearts on the grill, cook for a minute and a half each side, then set aside to rest. A rare heart is a challenge, so aim instead for a blushing medium within. Now season and grill the spring onions in much the same way, charring with intent.
To serve, slice the hearts into slivers about half the width of your little finger, being careful to retain the delicious juices that are exuded in the resting. Place the little gems, peas, pea shoots and capers in a large bowl, then introduce the heart, resting juices, spring onions and mint dressing. Serve with chilled red wine.
Extracted from The Book of St John by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury Press, £28)