The Cottage Smallholder

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Slow cooked roast Spanish lamb recipe infused with thyme and white wine

Thyme grown for slow cooked Spanish lambOne Sunday many years ago, Danny and I were pressed for time before a lunch party. In a desperate, ‘they’ll be here in 5 minutes’ move, we threw all the dirty pots and pans from the sink onto the lawn. It was deep winter and we felt confident that our friends wouldn’t venture further than the kitchen table. Danny locked the door to the garden, just in case.

All went well until a child, bored with the extensive lingering over coffee and Armagnac, got up and peered out of the tiny window that overlooks the garden. I knew by her steely look that she’d spotted the pots and pans. So I wasn’t surprised when she asked her Father, in a loud and horrified whisper, ‘Why have they put all the washing up from last week in the garden?’

Now if we want a relaxing morning before friends come for lunch, we cook this exquisite dish. The preparation time is literally five minutes. As it takes three hours to cook, it’s simmering in the oven for a couple of hours before you even consider setting the table and dusting off the hoover.

Danny’s brother brought the recipe back from Spain. He lived out there for a while and dated a beautiful girl, whose mother was clearly a talented and generous cook. This recipe, handed down for generations, is superb. Full of rich flavours and truly melt in the mouth. Spanish lamb is the reason why Danny grows thyme in a bath rather than a pot. It is one of a few of our dishes that tastes so spectacular everyone assumes that you have slaved for hours in kitchen, rather than thrown it in the oven and returned to bed with the dogs and Sunday papers.

Ingredients (for four – with a starter):

  • ½ shoulder of lamb
  • Decent handful of thyme (3 sprigs would do but we like to use about 40g or 10  sprigs – what’s a sprig of thyme? See tips and tricks below)
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 2 anchovies (optional)
  • Approx ½ bottle of dry white wine to cover the joint up to under half way (we use a wine box for cooking wine) – do not be tempted to cover the meat.
  • Aluminium foil (to make a tight seal under the lid)


  1. Find a casserole, with a tight fitting lid, to house the joint snugly.
  2. Line the base of the casserole with half of the thyme.
  3. Put in the joint, balsamic, garlic, juniper berries, and anchovies.
  4. Arrange the rest of the thyme around the joint.
  5. Pour on white wine (less than half way up the joint).
  6. Put casserole on the hob and bring to a good simmer (lid off).
  7. Cover the top with a piece of aluminium foil and press edges well to ensure a tight fit. Put on lid and place in the centre of a low oven 160º c (140º fan-assisted). Set timer for1½ hours.
  8. After 1½ hours turn the lamb over. Set timer for 1½ hours.
  9. After the final 1½ hours remove from oven, quickly pour off the sauce and put it in a warm place.
  10. The joint can be served immediately but will happily sit on the side in the casserole for at least half an hour (keep the foil and the lid on). The lamb will just fall off the bone.

This dish goes well with roast potatoes, gratin dauphinoise or herby buttered couscous. As it’s quite rich, we tend to stick to simple boiled vegetables such as runner beans, peas and carrots.

Tricks and tips:

  • What’s a sprig of thyme?

A sprig of thyme is a woody stem with several offshoots. The thyme in the picture above shows the offshoots at the top of the bush. This recipe needs at least 20 of these offshoots (about 7 to 10 sprigs, more is better).

  Leave a reply


  1. Really nice recipe i substituted cava for white wine this gives a much deeper flavour.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Chris

    We didn’t bruise the juniper berries first. We put in the garlic clove whole, peeled. Danny reckons that the anchovies don’t make a great difference. We are now going to use our slow cooker version as it tasted so much more intense.

    Hope that it turned out well for you!

    Hi Leslie

    Thanks for sharing your suggestions and method.

    Really pleased that it turned out well for you.

  3. Hi, I tried this recipe last night. When I prepared it, I was a little concerned on seasoning, but I stuck to the recipe with the exception that I added 3 black peppercorns. I have since seen you have added lashings of black pepper in your slow cooker version. It certainly did need pepper. I would also either double or treble the anchovies or add salt to increase the seasoning. The result was truely amazing: the lamb was succulent and had taken up the flavours; the resultant stock was excellent.

    I removed the lamb and covered, then reduced the stock by half and added some gravy flour to give a little thickening. The result was a wonderful sauce to serve with the lamb which I carved into thick slices.

    I took your advice and served with roast charlottes, runners with leek, cauli and broccoli. A very handsome meal; thank you, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

  4. Hi there

    We are trying the Spanish dish today.
    Did you bruise the juniper berries first? We did, hope that was okay. Didn’t add the anchovies as we followed the receipe on your most recent blog! Will try that next time. We also had to use dried thyme – hope it still has the desired effect!! Also, did you crush the garlic? Or put it in whole? I used paste this time, will use a bulb next time.
    Really looking forward to supper this evening…

  5. tractorfactorsteve

    ok, i’ll try it. think i’ll use my own ‘spiced olives’, made using the method recommended in hillaire walden’s preserving book. they have garlic and rosemary and/or thyme in them so should go well. by the way it’s a really creative way to ‘do up’ cheap olives. just rinse off the horrible brine and replace with olive oil, garlic and herbs, leave for a couple of weeks and mmmmm!

  6. Hi Steve,

    Love your stuff – thank you very much – great ideas.

    The anchovies were my innovation. Because this dish is cooking for so long, I would bet that even an anchovy hater would be hard pressed to distinguish the fainest scintilla of that dreaded fish in the end product. Same goes for the Balsamic.

    For what it’s worth, I would hesitate to introduce the olives because they just might add a distinctive flavour. On the other hand, I love experimentation. Why don’t you try it and let us know the outcome. Not too many: maybe five or six, I think. Up to yourself entirely.

  7. tractorfactorsteve

    i hate anchovies, but am grown up enough to love olives. could they be substituted?

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