When you want to do something special that’ll deliver on flavour and texture without demanding complicated prep, lamb saddle fillet is a persuasive candidate. It’s a prime joint of mini proportions – meaning a luxe roast can be on the table in double time. And if you’re cooking for one or two, there’s no wastage to worry about.
Taste and texture
A big hitter when it comes to distinctive flavour, lamb saddle fillet has super-tender texture on its side, too. The muscle fibres of the lamb’s loin are so close-knit and buttery soft they’re verging on prime-steak territory. A marbling of sweet fab keeps the fillet internally basted and moist as it cooks, melting away to just about nothing. If you prefer your meat lean but juicy, this is an excellent best-of-both-worlds choice.
Lamb saddle fillet is a cut with delicate flavour. It’s fragrant and grassy without being excessively heady and over-powering. That makes it an excellent partner for intense sauces with punchy aromatic or herby notes. It also means it’s a versatile cooker, as at home with light, summery salads as it is with roasted winter veg.
Where it’s cut from
There’s a clue in the name: the saddle comes from the top of the back of the lamb carcass and sits on either side of the spine. Unlike leg or shoulder, the muscles in the lumbar region don’t work especially hard on a sheep, which is why this cut is so tender. In this instance, flavour comes more from age and an all-grass diet than it does from exercise.
You’ll recognize the saddle fillet as the strip of meat that makes up the ‘eye’ of loin chops. We’ve just left is as a whole muscle, removed all the bones and neatly trimmed, so there’s zero prep for you to deal with.
How to cook it
Speed is the way forward with this cut – there’s nothing to be gained from taking it slow – so aim for a really pink finish. Excellent results are only a couple of steps away: heat a frying pan spritzed with oil until it’s smoking hot. Season the lamb saddle fillet and sear it all over until the outside is sizzling and well browned. Use a pair of tongs to help you seal any awkward spots. Pop onto a hot tray in a preheated oven at 200°C (180°C fan) for about 15 minutes, then take it out, wrap it in foil and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. During the resting time, the meat continues to cook in the residual heat and the juices redistribute, so they stay in the meat when you serve rather than seeping onto the plate.
Give it a try
Cooking a cut as beautiful as lamb saddle fillet should be a celebration of its natural flavour. Complement it with intensely rich sauces but don’t drown it in gravy. Fresh green herbs reflect the grassiness of the fillet, buttery veg work to reflect the softness of its texture and warming spices balance the meat’s richness.
• Put a twist on a luxurious Wellington by switching beef for lamb saddle fillet. The woodland earthiness of wild-mushroom duxelle is a lovely match for the meat.
• After searing the fillet, brush it lightly with honey and roll it in a crumb of crushed pistachios, finely chopped mint and a pinch of ras el-hanout (a pungent Moroccan spice mix). Roast as before and serve with herbed couscous, a sprinkling of fresh pomegranate seeds and some lemony yoghurt.
• Celebrate summer with a warm salad of lamb saddle fillet, combining boiled new potatoes with crisp Romaine lettuce, flavoursome vine tomatoes and shredded red onion. Top it off with a citrus-mustard dressing.
• Roast the saddle, slice it generously and serve it with super-smooth celeriac mash and a rich port jus flavoured with juniper.