I haven’t been blogging, but of course I have been eating. Rather well, actually. And although twitter often provides a distraction from actually writing something on the blog, occasionally it fuels it too.
A couple of weeks ago, I won a twitter competition held by Tim Elwin of posh wholesale delivery firm Urban Food Market (he’s @urbanfoodmarket). If the words “twitter competition” make you think of winning a lollipop or nice warm feeling, think again – I scored a $150 box of Bultarra saltbush lamb.
I’ve only had saltbush lamb once before, and was disappointed. I bought it from a person at the Farmer’s Markets in Canberra who was an agent, not the producer, and there was nothing about it to justify the extra cost. I’ve since found out from friend-of-a-friend Graham Strong who runs Arcadia Saltbush Lamb that many producers don’t graze their flocks on Old Man Saltbush for the extended period that’s necessary to really ramp up the flavour. As always, it pays to investigate your food, particularly if you’re buying a premium product.
Still, I was eager to try it because I’d read very high praise for Bultarra lamb from Neil of At My Table, whose blog has happily come back to life. It’s free range, naturally grazed, doesn’t have any nasty shit in it and the lambs aren’t mulesed. And, according to Neil, “the salt bush confers a concentrated lamb taste, not gamey in any way, just full on, robust, flavour; it was almost like eating lamb for the first time“.
When Tim announced he’d be giving some away, I sat glued to the computer. I whizzed in superfast with the answer to his question (about his site) and did a little happy dance when I found out I was in luck, because I am always
greedy keen to try new artisanal Australian produce.
Urban Food Market is a Sydney-based business, but Tim arranged delivery to the in-laws when we were passing through town for family visits and packed it in an esky to bring home. As it lasts well refrigerated for a couple of weeks in its packaging we decided to not freeze any and have a lamb-fest instead.
The pack included a couple of rib racks. I’ve only encountered lamb ribs once before, and it wasn’t a happy experience. We’d bought a whole beast from my sister in law’s farm, Coolumbooka, in Southern NSW. It’d been butchered down there, and they’d bagged up the ribs in some vile sweet gunk that was no doubt purchased in an industrial drum.
With meat this good, I wanted to keep it fairly simple and focus on its inherent flavour. Serendipitously, the November Gourmet Traveller has a recipe for lamb ribs that looked perfect. You make a paste of lemon zest, dried oregano and mint, a tiny bit of chilli and EVOO. Fortunately oregano and mint are the only dried herbs I believe in, and it all was on hand to marinate overnight.
I copped the 34 degree heat today to bake them at 150 degrees. You need to use a rack in a baking dish to drain the fattiness, and cover the trays with foil to keep them moist. Then a rest until dinner time.
You finish the racks over a hot chargrill, which leaches out any last too-fatty bits, and crisps and colours them. I decided against the GT salad, but made one with watercress, cos and fennel from the garden. I had some fresh borlotti beans, and some broad beans from my friend Lyn’s garden, so used the GT’s thyme and mustard dressing on them. I also made a tiny bowl of cherry tomatoes with chilli and lemon juice and some fritters of corn and our own asparagus, adapting a recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s brilliant cookbook Ratio.
Owy started eating first (I was still pouring the wine) and he made some very odd noises. I asked him if it was OK, but he kept chewing and didn’t say anything. He finally answered in two words, the second of which was “Yeah!” and first one of which was rude. Very rude, in fact. Then he said “Spectacular”.
The meat had the depth of flavour and rich intensity that I was hoping for, but the real blowout was the incredible melting texture. I finally get why people rave about Saltbush lamb – and I’m very excited about the other cuts still waiting. A big fat thank you to Tim and Urban Food Market. Any suggestions or recommendations for particularly delicious ways of cooking the other cuts (a beautiful rack, shanks and an easy-carve leg roast) are welcome.
15 November – updated to add: we’ve just had the second meal of the lamb, this time a rack seared quickly and finished in the oven on top served with a saute of dutch cream potatoes, asparagus and broad bean and a rocket salad. It is now officially Best Lamb Eva.