Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Friend the Butcher

Yesterday I made my first attempt at cooking NZ lamb. I had some good advisors. I read Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Donna Hay, Alton Brown and David Rosengarten to see what they had to say on the subject. In a favorite Julia Child cookbook Julia says, "...your butcher can advise you here. Get to know him. Make him your friend."

So that's what I did. I made a visit to the Willow Butchery, a tiny, clean and oh so quaint shop down the hill in our little village. It has a window full of gorgeous cuts of meats and sausages, all homemade. Inside, I was greeted by Bernie and Marcel, two of the friendliest faces I've encountered here so far. I told them Julia told me I was to make friends with my butcher, and they were tickled. I ordered my racks of lamb, and watched while Bernie cut them off a monster chunk of deep red meat, then slowly and precisely winnowed it away to two very delicate Frenched racks.

Meanwhile, Marcel explained to me what the various sausages and cuts of meat were and answered my questions about where the meat comes from, etc. Everything is local and much of it is organic. He was clearly proud to show off the homemade items. We got on the subject of NZ bacon, and when I compared it to pancetta, he gave me a sly grin. I explained that I was having trouble finding pancetta, and he held up a finger and disappeared to the back. A moment later, he came out with a 3 foot-long roll of brownish-pink meat, rustically bound with cotton twine. He explained that this was their first attempt at making their own pancetta, but they weren't sure it was coming out right. Six weeks into the process, they were concerned it wasn't dry enough, and would I mind taking a chunk and trying it and letting them know what I thought? Never one to say no to free pork, I enthusiastically obliged. Then, meat in hand, I headed back up the hill with my wrapped parcels tucked under my arm like a mad scientist heading back to the lab.

The recipe I chose for the lamb was a simple herb and olive oil gremolata. I found it in a Donna Hay (the Australian Martha Stewart, thank you, Rachel) cookbook and chose it because the parsley, mint and lemon were all readily available in our garden. The recipe was quick and simple, perfect for a weeknight dinner.

The pancetta was put to good use in the brussels sprouts I made to accompany the lamb. I had wanted to make a white bean puree, as well, but couldn't find dried white beans at any of the local stores, so I settled for a quick couscous made with chicken stock. The butchers gave me a couple tips on where to obtain white beans, so I will save that for another day and another chunk of pancetta.

The results were delicious. The lamb was tender and juicy and I was very happy with the gremolata I chose. The girls loved to eat the "lambsicles" with their fingers. Steve, who tends to be wary of lamb, went back for seconds, then thirds. I would definitely do this preparation again.

The pancetta was delicious. It was buttery and peppery with just enough fat to cook the shallots and flavor the brussels sprouts, and with plenty of salty little nuggets of meat. If people want to know how I get my kids to eat brussels sprouts, they should know that a little bacon-y goodness goes a long way. I'll be glad to report back to Bernie and Marcel that their great pancetta experiment was a success. And I can also happily report that my first attempt at the meat that makes NZ famous was a hit.


SF.Shen said...

You make me proud (and very hungry!). I love my butcher and made lamb chops just this weekend! I get it! Nummers!!

Steve said...

Those lambsicles were SERIOUSLY GOOD. That was probably the best red meat I've had since I've been here---beef or otherwise.

So far I've had lamb at the pub (lamb shanks) and Joanne's lamb. The lamb at the pub was unobjectionable, but these things were incredibly tasty.

I think this bodes well.

I love that Joanne got to beta-test some pig meat for the butcher guys.

Anonymous said...

My relatives used to like to come to my house for what they called "funny food." Which is to say, anything other than beef and mashed potatoes. I'm glad you make funny food too. You made my mouth water. Will have to try the recipe on Barry.
love you,

Patois said...

"Never one to say no to free pork..." You should come back to America, darling, and run for Congress.

Anonymous said...

I love that you took pictures during the cooking process. I get so engrossed in my cooking, I never have the ability to stop and document.
I'll have to go back and see if "learn to love lamb" is checked off on the list.
Love you!