This is an exciting time of year for chefs with the arrival of all the delicious young vegetables and salads. Tom shares his recipe for roast lamb.

For chefs, this is the most exciting time of year. The arrival of all the delicious young vegetables and salads means we can get down to seriously good eating and great spring food. It’’s fun for me to see how I can tempt my customers in new ways, but, of course, their tastes can change what I decide to put on the menu. I do try to have a broad selection to cover all the possibilities of vegetarians, strict fish eaters and so on. We won’’t even refuse a customer who wishes to have his meat ‘well done’!

I for one don’’t like to be told what to eat and how, so to create a new menu can be tricky. But there are a few simple rules I follow, and after that, imagination and creativity take over. For the starters, for example, I’’ll choose two meat, two fish, two veg and then perhaps a mixed meat and fish combination. Then, I’’ll look at what’s in season and what would go with what in terms of the vegetables, meat or fish. I can then play with the ideas in my head and draw how the dish could look. Finally, I cook it: sometimes it’s perfect straight away, and other times I need to tweak it until I’m completely happy. Over the course of the year, I change the menu every three to four months, with the seasons.

Find out what’s cooking at Tom’s restaurants at www.tomaikens.co.uk

ROAST LEG OF LAMB

Ingredients
1 leg of lamb (3kg in weight) with bone in
2 bulbs garlic, peeled
1 small bunch rosemary
2g natural sea salt
200ml olive oil
3 peeled onions
5 peeled carrots
500ml white chicken stock

Method
Make about 20 small incisions all over the leg of lamb. Take the bulbs of garlic, cut about 10 of the cloves in half, and insert them into the small holes. Then, take the rosemary and break off little pieces to insert into the remaining holes. Smear it all with a little olive oil and then the sea salt. Place this on a wire rack in a roasting tray and keep out of the fridge for about an hour before roasting. If you take a large piece of meat straight from the fridge to roast, it won’t cook evenly, because the inside will have to warm up before it even starts to cook. The meat will also be more relaxed if it’s already at room temperature, and should be much more tender once it’s been rested after cooking.

Cut the carrots in half, length-ways, and the onions into 1in pieces. Put these into the bottom of the roasting tray with the rest of the olive oil, garlic and a few rosemary leaves. Put the leg of lamb into the oven at 180˚C for 10–15 minutes (to brown the meat), then turn the oven down to 160˚C. This will also help to keep the meat tender, as you won’t be roasting the meat too fiercely. It should take approximately 1½ hours to cook.

The best way to tell if the meat is cooked is by inserting a roasting fork into the centre of the meat, and then lightly touching the fork onto your upper lip. It should be a little hotter than your own body temperature (37˚C). So, for medium rare, cook the lamb to 58˚C; medium would be about 65˚C. If you want to cook the lamb all the way through until it’s ‘well done’, it will need about 2½ hours in the oven.

When it’s ready, remove the lamb from the oven, then leave it to rest on a warmed serving plate for 10–15 minutes. While it’s resting, you can make the gravy. Place the whole roasting tray onto the heat and then re-colour the vege-tables. Add the chicken stock, bring this to a simmer, and season with salt and pepper.

Put ½tsp of cornflour in a little container and add 1tbsp of cold water. Whisk this into the gravy. Simmer it for a few minutes, then pass it through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Press the vegetables really well for maximum flavour.