Jeremy Clarkson made me do it. This week thanks to that good old British journalist I learned a lot about sheeping, got a big hankering for shepherd’s pie and then I had a hands-on sheep experience at over eight thousand feet. No, it had nothing to do with the sweetbreads found on Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm but I recommend anyone with Amazon Prime and a love for the English countryside check out this hilarious and educational new venture. Really, so many people do not know how much hard work goes into farming and farmers are the backbone of this country. They keep our country well fed. Also, Jeremy Clarkson made jokes not about fast British cars for once.
I’ve Got Big Sheep’s Balls
But back to giant sheep balls. Before last week I knew nothing about sheep balls (Which are actually more well known as lamb fries but some villagers like me still refer to them as sweetbreads) Before I watched Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm (Watch the hilarious trailer here) I was very uneducated when it came to sheeping and lambing. I had no idea that two male sheep are expected to impregnate about seventy ewes each breeding season. And I had no idea that the rams wear an apparatus that sprays paint every time a ewe is successfully mounted by a ram. Then the ewe gets sprayed with paint. Now, why would I care about these horny sheep shenanigans? Because I came across many spray-painted ewes on my hike through the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. That was a new one for me. I don’t usually hike with ewes. Anytime I find wildlife on my hikes it’s always entertaining, whether marmots are yelling at my dog or I’m avoiding that California black bear over yonder. Outdoor shenanigans with fuzzy sheep were an unexpected surprise. Thank you Jeremy Clarkson for educating me all about sheep in advance.
A woodsy walk to Leavitt Lake
I was just out for a scenic hike up the Sonora Pass thirty minutes north of Bridgeport, California. The drive up Highway 108 towards the old ghost town of Sonora blew my mind with how beautiful it was. My goal was to hike up the forest road to Leavitt Lake, a new hike for me. Honestly, I was not feeling one hundred percent on this late August morning. My degenerative disk disease has flared up since I got my Covid vaccine. Sleep has been hard to come by. I was more than happy to sit back in my Subaru with no air conditioning and watch the alpine scenery fly by outside my SUV windows and go for an easy hike. I honestly was not expecting to hike the seven miles roundtrip to the lakes but thought I would check out at least some of the trail. Then I started up the forest road 077 and got lost in the wild beauty of this area. Wow is this a beautiful forest to hike in. It’s really too bad it is just so far north from where I usually venture too.
I would love to come back here and hike further into these mountains. The old rutted dirt road continues up towards an abandoned mine and eventually meets up with the PCT. However, this late August day was not the day for more exploring with so much thick unbreathable wildfire smoke on the horizon.
A wildfire to the north had been filling all of Inyo County with smoke for the last week. I was expecting the smoke to fill the valley fast on this late August morning but it held back as I hiked higher to over 9,500 feet and the shores of hidden Leavitt Lake. I saw two Jeeps leaving the mostly deserted lake and passed one very friendly ranger going up and besides three hundred sheep, one sheepdog, a Shepherd and a donkey. That’s all the friendly faces I saw all morning.
Did you say 300 sheep?
The pup and I had finally made it up the last big hill before the bowl of Leavitt Lake, taken a few snaps of her aqua waters and were headed back towards the car when I thought, is that a sheep? I wandered off the trail into a Jeffrey pine forest just a bit and soon saw ten sheep grazing on the wildflowers and bushes that hugged the sides of the mountain.
The sheep were not hard to miss as they grazed amongst the sagebrush. Some wore bells and they were loud! Clearly, these were not secret sheep! I took a few snaps, congratulated the dog for staying with me and not being an asshole who bothers the sheep and headed back towards the trail. I was done hiking at this point and ready to head back towards Silver Lake and lunch.
As soon as I walked fifty more feet and crossed Leavitt Creek I realized there were sheep everywhere! The sheep were joining me on my northern journey back towards my Subaru. Strangely the dog was still behaving herself. I think she was a bit overwhelmed by all these woolly new trail companions. Luckily, thanks to Jeremy Clarkson I was way more learned about the noble sheep than I had been the week before. Keep in mind I had just walked by this area forty-five minutes earlier. The sheep were new to this area. As we trekked down towards the meadows and closer to the car I realized this entire valley was full of domestic livestock. Soon we came upon the shepherd who was in charge of the sheep. Pretty amazing that it was just this shepherd, one border collie and a sad-looking donkey who seemed to be in charge of the entire herd.
- Jeeping to Leavitt Lakes is extremely popular. Honestly any vehicle with a little bit of clearance, even my Subaru could make it up the first mile of trail. That is where the first Creek crossing is. The road is for expert Jeepers past that point.
- Why Jeep to Leavitt Lake? Not just to frolic with sheep but also the fishing. Brooke and rainbow trout are often caught easily here. For a backcountry lake, the fishing is rumored to be absolutely phenomenal. If you love to fish definitely check out this hidden honey hole.
A cut of meat of sheep, even Jeremy Clarkson himself would buy…
Did you know that sheep are often grazed similar to goats? One thing you need to know before you head to your neighborhood butcher for lamb or goat. You do want to purchase lamb that has been grass-fed and free-range. As the world learns to embrace lamb more, more and more lambs are being raised indoors on corn and soy. This makes the delicate flavor of lamb not exactly as flavorful. Lamb labeled as Pasture for Life means the ewes and lambs have been living on nothing but grass their entire lives and will mean that the expensive lamb shank you just purchased is top quality.
New Zealand lamb is the very best
Rumor has it that there are more sheep than people living in New Zealand and they are world-renowned for producing the most high-quality lamb. New Zealand is mountainous and cool; A perfect backdrop for free-range lamb to graze. They can live on rugged rocky land, unlike cattle. You will often find them being grazed on land that is too rough for cattle to cope with. Such as in an alpine forest at over nine thousand feet.
The “Lamb” that you would usually use in a shepherd’s pie would be a young sheep. These delicately flavored farm animals would be younger than a year old. But the terminology changes in the area of the world you are buying lamb or mutton. Older sheep are known as hoggets and their meat is more flavorful. You really don’t see mutton on menus in America. It’s a bit too flavorful for most Americans and their love of bland chain restaurants such as Chipotle and Applebees. Older sheep are known as mutton to us cooks. Mutton is what you want to use if making an authentic Indian curry like my Fantastic Moroccan Lamb Stew.
Back to those lamb fry jokes…
When we watched the second episode of Jeremy Clarkson’s Farm last week we made a lot of sheep ball jokes. There is a lot of misinformation when it comes to sweetbreads. Sweetbreads are technically usually from the throat, stomach or heart of the animal. According to BBCFood, These delicate, creamy morsels are the favored offal of many a chef and gastronome. Sweetbreads are subject to much confusion and are often mistakenly believed to be the testicles of an animal. In fact, they’re two separate glands – the thymus gland (from the throat) and the pancreas gland (from the heart or stomach) that are taken from calves or lambs.
As far as I can tell, you can not find sweetbreads in the United States. I’m positive PETA somehow has something to do with that. What’s wrong with using every part of a farm animal that has been butchered? Unfortunately, we usually have to leave the U.S. to find the sweetbreads we crave but the good news is you can whip up this delicious shepherd’s pie in your home kitchen! The secret ingredient you need is lamb shanks. If you can’t get lamb shanks from your butcher lamb shoulder will do or even the more expensive and oh-so-delicious leg of lamb.
First official fall recipe; Lamb Shank Sheperd’s Pie
This shepherd’s pie kick I am on is going to kick me out straight out of ketosis but I don’t really care. If I’m going to go to all of the work to braise lamb shanks in the oven for four hours then I am for sure also going to add a real potato topping to the top of my shepherd’s pie. I’m pretty sure Jeremy Clarkson himself would roll his eye at the concept of Keto Sheperd’s Pie. But if you want to make a more keto-friendly version feel free to use a fantastic Cauliflower Mashed Potato recipe like this one instead of the potato crust.
Also, I am a weirdo and I actually like boxed mashed potatoes because they were forbidden in our house growing up. So I use these dehydrated potato flakes but use whichever mashed potato recipe your family loves.
It’s pouring down rain today as our mountain ski town is being blessed with a week’s worth of thunderstorms. The American southwest is as dry as a bone these days with drought and climate change. Such a difference from Jeremy Clarkson’s rainy England, the country this delicious hearty dish hails from. Wildfires are decimating our beautiful California wilderness. Anytime we are blessed with pouring rain for hours I am just thrilled. I am also tempted to eat British food from sunup to sundown. I started my day with beans on toast with an egg fried in Kerrygold butter. It was beyond delectable. I don’t think I’ve had beans on toast in three years and I enjoyed every British bite. Now tonight as the thunderheads build and the lightning strikes fifty feet outside our door we have this Jeremy Clarkson-worthy Shepherds Pie braising in the oven.
Jeremy Clarkson’s favorite Lamb Shepherd’s Pie
2 lamb shank
2 teaspoons roasted garlic
3 teaspoons ghee or bacon fat
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 large can of whole tomatoes, chopped up
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup of red wine (Don’t use Charles Shaw or crap wine like a stupid American!)
3 cups homemade lamb stock or beef bone broth
4 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
1 cup peas
2 cups of your favorite mashed potatoes
In the ghee or bacon fat cook the onions for ten minutes until well cooked. In a blender puree the onions. In a pressure cooker with 1 tablespoon vinegar and three cups of water, cook the lamb shanks for twenty minutes. Set them aside to cool slightly. You can use the broth from the lamb shanks to finish this dish.
Add in the celery and carrots to the onions. Cook another ten minutes until well done. Add the garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Salt and pepper the lamb shanks and throw in with the veggies to sear. Add the cup of wine. Add the rosemary, bay leaves, tomatoes and the stock or beef bone broth.
Preheat the oven to 375. Braise the lamb in the oven for at least 3 hours. If the sauce is looking reduced too much add more broth or stock. Remove the shanks from the liquid to cool just a bit. Shred the meat from the bone. Give the bone to a hungry dog you know if she was well behaved today and did not chase any sheep.
Return the meat to the sauce and add all those delicious bits to a baking dish. Layer your favorite mash potatoes on top. Turn the oven up to 400. Bake the shepherd’s pie for forty minutes. You could add sharp cheddar to the top for the last ten minutes if you would prefer. Serve this delicious Shepherd’s Pie to your family and Jeremy Clarkson and anyone else who deserves such an elegant British sheepy meal.