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For The Love Of Lamb

By Chef Craig Rodger

Tomorrow is National Lamb Day and today is St. Valentine’s Day so I thought I would talk about some of the ways to cook Lamb – it is after all, close to every Kiwi’s heart. New Zealand lamb is world famous (not just world famous in New Zealand, like actually world famous) and it’s high renown is well deserved.

New Zealand lamb is mostly pasture-reared and is for the most part grass-fed and free range. It is locally reared and doesn’t suffer from the air-miles issue like some produce that we have to import. More to the point, it is a delicious meat which is versatile in the ways you can prepare it, it handles strong and light flavours well and it is quite forgiving to cook with. I love it, the customers love it and I’m sure you and the family love it!

One thing to note about lamb is that it has a tighter texture and more of a gelatinous muscle fibre when compared to beef. This is why lamb should be cooked pink (medium, almost medium well to be honest) as the meat requires the heat to work on it to be tender and moist. I would err on the side of over-cooking lamb slightly as opposed to under-cooking it for this reason – once you get the knack of the cooking times you can practice getting more accurate and cooking it to the point you prefer.

Here are 3 ways I like to prepare lamb:

My favourite cut of lamb is the rump – always with the cap left on. The cap is the fat and sinew that sits on top of the rump, think about the layer of fat that runs round a sirloin steak, that’s the sirloin’s cap. The rump has a wonderful ratio of lean meat to fat which means it’s very satisfying and a good portion for your money.

1. Roast Rump of Lamb, Diced Pumpkin, Peas & Lettuce

Buy 150g portions of lamb rump with the cap on. Place the rump into a dry frying pan cap side down and put it on a moderate to high heat. Over the next few minutes the cap will become crisp and the fat under the skin of the rump will begin to come out into the pan. Turn the lamb onto the flesh side to colour before transferring the rump to an ovenproof dish and roasting in a pre-heated oven @ 180c for approximately 12 – 15 minutes depending on thickness.

While the lamb is roasting, skin and de-seed ¼ supermarket pumpkin and roughly dice, roast in the oven alongside the lamb if there is room on the tray. Finely slice a couple of onions and slowly fry in a little butter, add to this some chopped garlic and allow to cook until soft. Shred one iceberg lettuce and a few leaves of mint and when the lamb is out the oven begin to slowly cook the lettuce in the softened onion pan, after a minute or two add one cup of frozen or fresh peas to the lettuce (we want to cook the peas without allowing them to discolour).

Once the lamb is out of the oven, cover it with some tin foil or a loose-fitting lid to allow it to rest (lamb is best to rest “warm” which means we actively try and retain a bit of heat in the resting dish, eye filet of beef is better to rest “cold” or at room temp as it is such a delicate meat) for about 5 – 10 minutes. When the pumpkin is cooked remove it from the oven, stir the mint through the lettuce and pour any juices from the rested lamb in with the lettuce and arrange the cooked lettuce on a serving dish or on plates, top with the pumpkin and then carve the lamb and serve beside the lettuce, peas and pumpkin.

2. Charred Loin of Lamb, Balsamic Tomatoes, Beetroot, Cumin and Feta

This dish illustrates how well lamb stands up to and complements punchy flavours.

Use some pre-cooked beetroot for this dish, or you can boil some yourself before cooking the lamb.

Cut the loins of lamb in half lengthways to give two long loins. Marinade the loins of lamb in chopped garlic, cumin seeds and extra virgin olive oil for 30 minutes up to 1 day before grilling. Use a chargrill pan, colour the lamb on each side for 90 seconds making sure the pan is of a moderate heat to enable the meat to stay on the heat without burning for 90 seconds a side. Remove the loins from the heat and allow to rest. Cut the tomatoes into eighths and do the same for the beetroot. Place the tomatoes and the beetroot into a bowl and pour 1 tablespoon of balsamic into the bowl, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of cumin seeds, a pinch of salt and some cracked black pepper – mix it all together.

Crumble some feta into the salad and place onto a serving dish or individual plates, carve the lamb loin and serve. This salad would be delicious served with some dressed salad leaves or some lightly cooked asparagus or broccoli.

3. Braised Lamb Shoulder, Italian Style Vegetables

I like this dish as it incorporates the fat from the lamb to create the vinaigrette for the vegetables (I’ve struggled with a name for this vinaigrette, it’s almost a cross between a vinaigrette and a jus so I thought jus-naigrette was accurate but it looks atrocious on a menu alas).

Take a whole boneless lamb shoulder and place it in an ovenproof dish, slice an onion and fry with colour before putting it in beside the lamb. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, some rosemary, one can of tomatoes, salt and pepper to the dish before covering with a tight-fitting lid or some tightly wrapped tin foil and placing it in the oven to cook for approximately 2 and a half hours.

Meanwhile, chop one or two (depending on how many people you are serving) capsicums – of whichever colour you like – leaving them quite large, prepare a couple of courgette the same way and cut an aubergine in a similar way. Roughly chop a couple of red onions and leave the prepared vegetables handy until the lamb has cooked. I like to put some kale through this dish as the leaves stand up to the hot lamb and sauce. Prepare about 3 or 4 cups of picked kale and “massage” the kale with some salt and olive oil – this makes the kale a bit more tender. Once the lamb has cooked allow it to cool for 20 minutes in the hot cooking liquid before transferring it to another dish.

Take the juices and add approximately ⅕ of the amount of the juice as vinegar. Blend the juice with a hand-held blender and season with salt and pepper. The jus-naigrette (that’s what it’s called) should be quite sharp and a little bit thick from the tomatoes. Get a large frying pan and add a little olive oil to the pan, fry the red onions, courgette, aubergine and capsicums for a couple of minutes to get some colour on them, add ½ a cup of the vinaigrette you made to the pan and toss together. Add the vegetables to the kale prepared earlier and stir together, you may need to add more sauce to the vegetables.

Pick the lamb into long shreds, it should be very tender and easy to pull apart. Toss the salad together and stir through a handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds for crunch. Serve in a large salad bowl.

 

Lamb is so versatile, you can make beautiful skewers, koftes, braised comforting shanks or a warming moussaka. If you’ve got our book, why don’t you have a crack at the Olive Oil Poached Lamb Rump, it’s a sure-fire crowd pleaser – perfect for a day like today.

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