(Don’t read this letter if you’re vegan)
This months red meat meal is lamb.
As part of his work as a chef, our son Geordie, has to go out to farms and collect produce for the restaurant. Last week it was out to the farm where the biggest black truffle in Australia was dig up. The farmer didn’t need a truffle dog to find it. It was so big that he saw it bulging up out of the ground. It took him an hour and a half to expose it and dig it out very carefully. It is the largest truffle ever found Australia, weighing in a 1.2 + kgs. The world record for the biggest truffle is for one found in France weighing in at a whopping 1.3 kg.
So we still have a hundred grams to go!
Recently, Geordie was out at the farm where they source their organic lamb and got to make friends with the very carefully reared little animals. He took a shine to one in particular and asked how much it would be. They agreed a price and the next day after lunch, the abattoir van called in at the restaurant with the weeks supply as well as Geordie’s Choice.
He has done this sort of thing before. Earlier in the year it was a piglet. Since he started at this he has honed his skills. I remember he told me that the first time that he had to butcher an animal. It took him 2 hrs to break it down, section it and have it all prepared and shrink-wrapped ready for the fridge and freezer. He’s a chef, not a butcher.
This time, with more practice and better skills, he has it all in the cling-film in 20 mins. We get a call asking if we have room in our fridge/freezer. We do and he is here shortly after with his cargo. All neatly sectioned and wrapped as leg, shoulder, tender loin, spare ribs, excess bones and trimmings, etc.
The first thing that I do is to make a stock with all the excess bones, and trimmings. I use carrots and celery from the garden, plus a couple of parsnips and some spinach and mustard greens. At this time of year there is a lot less choice in the garden, so we use what we have. This is the life that we have chosen. Our winter mirepoix is augmented with sprigs of sage, sweet marjoram and thyme, all from our herb garden. Then two whole knobs of our own home grown, cleaned, plaited and hung garlic, cut cross-wise to expose the full flavour and tossed in whole, a star anise and a whole bottle of our own new vintage light red wine. I roast the bones for an hour in the oven, while I boil the mirepoix on the hot plate. I add the bones to the veggie mix and let the lot simmer together for another hour more on the wood stove.
The whole lot is left to cool overnight before I skim off the fat, remove the bones and then sieve out the herbs and vegetables. I re-heat the resulting stock the next night when we light the wood fired kitchen stove again.
I reduce the stock down from many litres down to just one. An intense concoction of garden produce flavours and hand tended, organic and carefully raised lamb, marrow-bone jelly and home made, organic shiraz red wine. I can’t think of anything else that could be much more rewarding. Eating form our own garden, cooking what we have at the time. A constantly changing menu closely tied to the season and our own hard work in the garden and orchards.
The next day we have a wonderful, long-term friend call in. We discuss our common interests in ceramics. He teaches me many things, as he always does. He is a wonderful mentor. I learn to be a little more accepting and more forgiving with each visit. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m trying. He is amazingly patient. A good friend and very caring, I admire him immensely.
I cook him a risotto of home-grown mushrooms and garden-produce for lunch. We go together down to the Pantry Field and pick some big, luscious, dark, field mushrooms. I send him home with a bag-full of them, but we save a few for the risotto. We also have some exotic fungi from the local market. They all go in together. Janine comes home from her outing and the three of us greedily consume it. It works out well and we enjoy it together. A rich full flavour, de-glazed with a slosh of our wine, moderated with some of our home made marrowbone jelly stock form Geordie’s lamb.
I have the choice of arborio and carnaroli rice. The arborio is open, so I use that.
I brown an onion in some local EV olive oil until softened. Stir in a cup-full of the rice and flip it around until properly coated in the oil. Then deglaze with a big ‘slosh’ of local Sauvignon Blanc, add in the sliced mushrooms and finely diced veggies. At this point I’d usually have another pan of stock boiling close by, but on this occasion, I only have just 1 litre of concentrated stock from Geordies lamb bones, so I add it in and as it firms up, I add a little more white wine. The whole lot is consistently stirred and simmered while we talk, until the rice is done.
It has a smooth flowing texture, a lovely red/brown colour, and a warm, fulfilling place in the soul for some human interaction. We really enjoy it.
So that was nice. Possibly better than I had any idea that I knew of. Life is made of such unexpected exchanges.
I am so lucky. I don’t know how lucky I am. I never know quite what is going on in my life, until it is a long time after the event. I seem to only know what has happened to me in retrospect.
We decide to have a shoulder of Geordie’s new lamb for dinner. It’s organic and it couldn’t be fresher. Rested for a couple of days. We get it out of the fridge and prepare it. We collect a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the cuttings that we grew from bushes that John Meredith had growing in his herb garden in the 70’s. He got his rosemary cuttings from his mother’s garden in Holbrook, back in the 50’s, and from there, they came to us, via his weekender here in the village. These sprigs of rosemary have a direct family tree that goes back into medieval times, or so it seems. The Meredith family tree goes all the way back to the Kings of Wales.
These woody herbaceous bushes that we grew from the cuttings that were given to us by Merro back in the seventies were propagated out into the series of bushes that we still have growing today.
I climb up onto a kitchen chair and then make my way up onto the kitchen table and hook down one of the last plaits of garlic, still hanging up there from last October. There are only 4 plaits left, two at each end of the roof truss. We usually run out about now just a few months short of the full year. We had a good crop last year, so we will have enough to make it through the last 2 months. The garlic that is left hanging up there is a little bit tired. It has started to shoot and is somewhat dry and withered, but it still tastes like garlic when cooked, only just not as strong as it was.
We planted this years crop of a few hundred cloves, back in March, they are doing well and should be ready to lift in October or November when they start to die down.
I brown the shoulder in good local olive oil on the stove top. The Queen of Yorkshire pudding has lit the stove early, so as to get a good hot oven. She intends to cook a Yorkshire pudding with the juices from the roast and she will need a very hot oven at the end for that, so as to get it just right. We toss in some quartered onions and some of our freshly dug King Edward potatoes. The roasting pan then goes into the oven. We cook it long and slow, with the heat gently increasing as we go, so that the lamb finishes with a nice caramelised taste and the oven is hot, ready for the Yorkshire pudding to go straight in.
Yorkshire pudding, for those who don’t know, is a kind of savoury pancake that is cooked after a roast, in the same pan, using the pan juices. There is just enough time to cook it quickly while the roast rests before carving. I know some families that serve it as an entrée with gravy before the roast, but we have always had it on the plate with the meat and vegetables.
2 table spoons full of plain flour
1/2 a cup of milk
This mixture, although quite simple, has to be made up at least an hour or so before it’s needed, so that all the ingredients have time to get to know each other well. An occasional whisking with a fork every now and then when passing also helps. Prepare the mix when you prepare the meat.
Remove the roast from the baking pan and drain all the juices to one end. Spoon off what fat you can from the top of the liquid. Put the pan back on top of the stove and get it cracking hot. Pour in the Yorkshire pudding mix so that it fills the pan with a thin layer. Place it back in the oven for a few minutes at full heat. It should come out all risen and fluffy with a golden crust. It looks great as it comes out of the oven, but soon collapses as it is cut up into sections and placed on the plates. It’s very fashionable these days to cook individual small Yorkshire puddings in a cake tray. Traditionally, Yorkshire pudding was a cheap way to fill a family up while getting the most out of a slim allowance of meat for the week.
When the meat has been in the oven for half its time, we add the potatoes, I go out and pick the Brussels sprouts and broccoli. They are as fresh as they can be, I rinse them and have them ready in the saucepan. When the roast comes out of the oven, the pudding goes in. The greens go on the hot plate with a little boiling water from the kettle. I steam the greens.
We enjoy our roast lamb as it falls from the bone and melts in our collective mouths, with Yorkshire pudding, fresh picked home grown Brussels sprouts and broccoli. These are hot, but still slightly firm straight off the stove top and onto the plates last thing, with our own roasted potatoes, crispy outside, but smooth and soft inside. It’s a very special treat to dine for, that we seem to be able to have quite often — sans the lamb.
It’s Geordie’s birthday coming up soon. We arrange for a few very close friends to go out to dinner. Just the 6 of us, we go to a very special multiple starred restaurant in Sydney, He has chosen it for his own party. He once worked here doing cooking demos. We have various drinks at the bar, while we wait for the seating in the restaurant proper to open. I’m the designated driver, so only water for me,
We eventually go in and are seated. The staff are attentive and helpful. This restaurant is full, even on a Wednesday evening. The prices are expensive in my opinion. Perhaps over-rated for what is on offer. $25 for a small plate of entrée. It seems a bit much to me. But I can’t deny that the place is full, mid week. However , it is the most expensive suburb in Sydney, full of millionaires. So the prices are all-right for them.
The waitress starts to tell us about the specials on the menu tonight. She lists off the dishes one at a time. She starts with the restaurant’s famous lamb dish. The signature dish of the house, slow roasted and served with your choice of side dishes, like steamed vegetables.
I don’t want to sound too much like a toffee-nosed twat, but we had that exact meal last night!
I bet that they don’t do Yorkshire pudding as a special side dish.
with love from the Queen of the hot oven and her Yorkshire Man.