Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Australian Lamb: Butchery, Cooking & Enjoying

I'm posing with "Loretta," the Australian lamb who was the centerpiece of a butchery demo I recently attended at the Liquid Art House. Such an appealing lady.

I've always been a lover of lamb and have previously ranted about Why Do So Few Americans Eat Lamb? The average American eats less than one pound of lamb a year, down from 4.5 pounds in the early 1960s. Lamb consumption is on the decline and we need to turn it around, to get more Americans consuming this delicious meat. I think that much of the issue revolves around misconceptions about lamb, primarily that people think it is too gamey and also feel it is too difficult to cook. At a Lamb Butchery Demo & Luncheon held at the Liquid Art House and sponsored by True Aussie Lamb, both of these misconceptions were satisfactorily destroyed.

When I first got to the Liquid Art House, I noticed the plastic sheet on the floor, almost thinking I was in an episode of the Sopranos and someone was about to get whacked.  Fortunately, it was just the lamb, which had already been whacked.

Our afternoon began with a butchery demo by Master Butcher Doug Piper of Meat & Livestock Australia. For the last 38 years, Doug has been involved in the butcher trade so he possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience. At age 15, Doug wanted to be a carpenter however there were no jobs available in that field. He had an uncle who was a butcher and Doug then decided to opt for a butcher apprenticeship, and he has never looked back. Doug is also a personable man, down to earth and with a good sense of humor..

Australian lamb, which is mostly grass fed, is lean and low in cholesterol, possessing plenty of vitamins, iron and Omega-3s. Australia has a high standard for animal welfare, so there are few concerns about inhumanely raised meat. Their lamb is vacuum packed for transport to the U.S. and the actual environmental impact of transporting the lamb is minimal. Australian lamb generally has a milder flavor than most U.S. raised lamb, and thus lacks the gaminess which turns off some people. Not all lamb tastes the same and if you worry about a gamey taste, then you should try Australian lamb. The first misconception has been corrected, though there will be more evidence later.

Here is a short video of the initial butchery demo. Throughout the demo, Doug showed his skill, quickly cutting apart the entire lamb, showing the amount of meat that can be derived from a single lamb.

At the end of the demo, there were six plates full of various cuts of lamb, from shanks to chops. Such a thing of beauty. As he placed each cut on a plate, he discussed methods of cooking each cut.

Though some people think Lamb is difficult to cook, it really isn't. In many respects, it can be treated like beef, and prepared in a myriad of ways. The True Aussie Lamb site has plenty of Lamb Recipes as well as an abundance of basic advice and suggestions for Cooking Lamb.  If you can prepare a beef roast or a pork chop, you can prepare lamb. Get over your fear of cooking lamb and realize that it isn't any more difficult than any other meat. The second misconception has been corrected too!

After the butchery demo, we enjoyed a delicious four-course lamb lunch prepared by Chef Rachel Klein and her team. Every single one of these dishes featured lamb which possessed a mild taste, without any off-putting gamey flavors. The courses also showcased several different ways that lamb can be prepared. Our lunch helped show that not all lamb is gamey.

We began with an Australian Lamb Shoulder Taco, with mint relish and ricotta salata. The lamb had been braised for about 32 hours at 200 degrees, which led to extremely tender lamb inside a corn tortilla. The lamb's spices created quite a compelling taste, with a mild touch of mint, and some creaminess from the ricotta. I would have enjoyed devouring several of these for lunch, With a slow cooker, anyone at home could braise a lamb shoulder and make their own tacos at home.

The Spiced Australian Lamb Skewers, with raita, house made pita, and herbs, were like kofte, kind of a minced lamb kebab. It was tender and flavorful, once again possessed of a compelling blend of spices and herbs. This dish would appeal to many people, even those who claim they don't like lamb. And the pita bread was excellent!

The Boneless Eye of Australian Loin, with skordalia, forum vinegar, broccoli rabe, pickled strawberries, Korean chili & goat's milk feta, had been marinated over night and then flashed on the grill. The tender lamb was mild but flavorful, with a savory meatiness. A carnivore's treasure. The skordalia was creamy and tasty, a nice pairing for the lamb.

The Rack of Australian Lamb, with roasted grapes, green olive jam, potato puree, mint & parmesan, was also tender and mild, savory and delicious. No one could accuse this lamb of being too gamey for them. Instead, this is the type of lamb that changes people's minds, which converts them into a lamb lover. I simply wanted more lamb to come to the table, to continue the culinary journey that started with the tacos.

To end our lunch, we were presented a Milk Chocolate Caramel Mousse, with creme chantilly, dark cocoa sauce, and candied hazelnuts. I was hoping though they found a way to integrate lamb into the dessert, like candied lamb bacon. Despite that wish, the dessert was rich and smooth, creamy and bursting with chocolate.

Lamb, it should be what's for dinner (or lunch, or brunch).

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