When it comes down to it, food is for some blokes about nothing more than impressing some young lady, and applying “the wooing”. And, blimmin good on you. New Zealand needs more of you.
But what happens if you’re in a stable relationship, and all you really want is a wholesome meal? Something to make those blustery, rainy spring days a little easier for the both of you.
Then, in my humble opinion, you want something like this.
That’s right. Delicious, warming, roast lamb with dark gravy and a beer. And what could be better.
The first thing you’ll need is lamb. We get ours from Allan at Waiora Lamb. And he’s a top bloke. He brings a whole mess of it down from Fielding every weekend, and sells it at the Schaefer’s Park markets on a Sunday morning. I think he might also be somewhere in the Hutt on Saturdays. Give him a call and I’m sure he’ll fix you up.
For example, we ordered an entire lamb the weekend before last. Then on Sunday morning I just popped down to the markets, collected the lamb, brought it home and shared it among 5 different households. And we’ll doubtless be doing that again in the near future, especially before those lambs stop being lambs. Which, technically, they do once they’re in a cardboard box in a bout a dozen pieces, but, you get my meaning.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, there’s a trick for young players. Lamb is weighted just after slaughter. It’s then dried and hung for a couple of days, and then butchered into the cuts you want. We lost about a third of the weight of the lamb between slaughter and delivery, so you’ll want to factor that in if you’re ordering for more than just your own freezer and have to share costs. This increased the price from $7.50 advertised weight to about $9.50 per kilo actual cost.
But when it comes down to it, you’re getting a better product, at a better price than the supermarkets (minimum $15 per kg at New World Metro). And you’re also making the most effective use of your dead animal. None of this “select cuts” only bullshit. We pretty much shared out and ate the whole beast bar the tail and wool. In fact, I’m going to insist we also get the liver and kidneys next time…
So, onto the cooking. We got a leg portion and I decided to cook it in the traditional way. Roasted.
The first thing to do is prepare the lamb. Put your oven on to the magical temperature of 180c, and then get your ingredients together.
Here I’m using peeled whole cloves of garlic, anchovies, and rosemary. Except there’s no rosemary. I got too lazy to duck out and pinch some from the local gardens.
Take your lamb and make a number of incisions directly into the meat. Don’t get too carried away though. There should only be as many wholes as you have cloves.
The idea is that you are going to insert a clove of garlic, some anchovy, and a small sprig of rosemary into each incision. This combination of herbs and spices with make your roast lamb extremely delicious, I guarantee it.
Once you’ve inserted the cloves etc, it’ll look something like the picture on the right. You’ll need to season the meat. .
Seasoning is simple, and involves putting salt, then olive oil on the meat. Neither need to expensive.
What’s important is that you really rub the oil across the any area that still has fat on it. This will eventually turn into crispy delicious “crackling”.
Make sure that you work the oil in, and most importantly, get used to the texture of the meat. I can’t stress how vital that is. You need to know what uncooked meat feels like when you squeeze it. Why will become apparently later.
Then, pop your lamb into your oven tray to rest, and prepare your veges!
Actually, even if you’re not into meat, what I’m about to say applies. Be really careful when cutting vegetables. Most people injure themselves when cutting things you’d think were harmless. Pumpkins should be banned. More blimmin chef’s have slipped cutting pumpkins that you can possibly imagine.
The main thing is to keep your fingers in sight at all times. If you can see them it is much, much harder to prevent that razor sharp knife you’re using from severing one of your much-loved fingers. And you are using a sharp knife, aren’t you? Blunt knives are twice as dangerous as sharp ones. They slip too easily, and they leave jagged cuts that in turn leave scars.
Check out the picture to the right. As long as I apply a constant and smooth downward pressure the blade will split the kumara in two evenly. If my knife is blunt it will slip sideways. If my hands are out of sight, I will cut them.
All these are bad things.
But done properly? You’ll have an evenly cut piece of tuber ready for crisping in the oven.
And don’t they just look as pleased as punch?
The thing to notice is that all the vegetables are skin side down. This is because there isn’t any oil in the pan yet, and they’ll stick to the bottom. When they stick to the bottom they become a damn hassle to unstick, and you end up loosing all the great crispy bits.
The photo on the left is after about 20mins at 180c, and I’ve taken the pan out to turn the vegetables. The exposed insides have started to dry out nicely, and they’re forming a crispy skin. The photo on the right is what it’ll start to look like once turned. You’re aiming for crispy golden brown. Turn them every 20 mins, and you’ll end up with this, below.
The meat has shrunk a little, and the vegetables are glossy because they’ve been soaking up the fat and juices from the lamb as it leeches out. This will make them pretty damn tasty.
The lamb is ready to take out of the oven when the vegetables are tender, but especially when it’s still nice and pink, as on the right?
So how do you tell if it’s cooked without cutting into it?
Just give it a wee squeeze with the tongs you’re using to turn the vegetables. Now, you do remember what the soft meat felt like right? A cooked leg should feel like it has a firm layer around a still-soft core. Have a few squeezes, and if it feels about right, haul it out.
If you’re not feeling confident, give it about 1/2 hour per 500g. Generally it takes a few goes to get the squeeze test right. But Allan at Wairoa lambs doesn’t mind.
The most important thing to note is that uncooked lamb isn’t dangerous. If you’ve hauled it out and it’s still raw, then put it back in because raw meat is edible, but not that great tasting.
Seen as this one was cooked the way I like it, so I’m cutting it into hearty slices. That white lump in shot is a chunk of garlic, which has infused the meat with flavour.
Then place the whole shebang onto a plate, and get it to the table with steamed greens and some dark gravy! (The gravy at my house is made by the second chef… if you don’t have a second chef, go ahead and spoil your roast with something out of a packet or bottle).