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Thursday, 20 October 2011

In Praise of Welsh Lamb, aided by a brilliant chef and a hot farmer

Last week, I attended a fabulous event at Odette's in Primrose Hill to promote  Welsh Lamb.  We had an amazing feast cooked by chef Bryn Williams who was very chatty and enthusiastic about Welsh Lamb as it's the only lamb he will use in his restaurant.  He introduced the meal he had prepared for us by saying that "We go in and only buy certain cuts but we should be eating lamb from nose to tail."  He is absolutely right! I use what are considered unusual cuts of lamb quite often, coming from New Zealand - we do have rather a lot of sheep to chew our way through LOL

Most Brits buy lamb shoulder or leg to roast, lamb chops, and perhaps lamb mince for quick dinners but don't tend to buy cuts like neck fillets, lamb breast, ribs or fillets.

A revelation for me was that Welsh Lamb is actually at its best and most flavoursome now, in the Autumn, whereas we tend to think of lamb being Spring meat.  Bryn also told us that one of the reasons Welsh Lamb is so special, apart from the care taken by the farmers, is the Welsh environment.  Bryn joked that the fact it seems to rain most of the time adds to the flavour of the lamb, because it generates decent grass perfect for grazing and makes the lambs work harder walking about on soft ground so builds the muscle of the lambs which makes them more meaty.

We were also able to chat to the rather HOT lovely Myrddin Davies who is a farmer from North Wales and the ‘Face of Welsh Lamb’ – which means he's an ambassador for the brand.  He's 29 and his 180 acre farm, Nant y Wrach Bach (which translates as valley of the little witch) lies in the parish of Pandy Tudur, south east of Conwy, North Wales.  He has a blog on the Welsh Lamb website.  It was great to be able to swoon over talk to a farmer about how the lambs are raised and what methods are used so that you're able to know that you're buying a quality product and the animals, as well as the environment, are well cared for.

I was also rather pleasantly surprised to learn that the European Commission (EC) has awarded Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef the coveted status of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).  The EC’s protected food name scheme aims to preserve and promote special foods that are unique to their terrain – foods that have character, that are lovingly-crafted, that have an unbreakable connection to the land they come from.  Needless to say the Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef promotional organisations are quite rightfully very chuffed about it.

Anyway, on to the feast!  Bryn Williams cooked us a magnificent five-course tasting lunch that showed us the versatility and delicious flavour of Welsh Lamb.  Most of the dishes were quick, economical family meals but there was one slow-cook dish that is perfect for a lazy Autumn weekend lunch.

Don't read the rest of this post if you are hungry because here's the details of the dishes we were served:

Welsh Lamb Spare Ribs: These were cooked in a sweet and sticky BBQ style sauce.  The meat was literally falling off the bone.  Bryn said that these lamb ribs were considered 'off-cuts' by butchers and would therefore be relatively cheap to buy. His advise was, "If you can't get hold of them, start asking for them because it's supply and demand. If people want them, then butchers will stock and sell them." Very wise words indeed and I shall be nagging like mad asking the local butcher for some.

Welsh Lamb Koftas: These were served in very cute little burger buns with a lovely yoghurt/mayo dressing.  Really soft and moist patties flavoured with a little cumin and mint.  I make Koftas often and was able to get a few flavour tips from Bryn so my Koftas will be legendary before long LOL

Welsh Lamb Fillet and couscous: Oh my word! We were presented with the most succulent strips of lamb that had been pan-fried for only about three minutes in total.  It was so flavoursome and the lamb is ready in less time than it takes you to make the couscous.  Bryn flavoured his couscous with chicken stock, parsley, mint and lemon juice.

Welsh Lamb chop and chickpeas: What I loved about this dish was that the lamb chop was not mucked about with, the full flavour of the lamb was the star of the dish.  The chickpeas were full of flavour and had a thick broth with them but it didn't over power the lamb at all. A stunning and easy dish to wow the family with.

Slow roast Welsh Lamb shoulder and potato cake with gem and mint salad: Bryn bought out the roasting tray with the lovely layered potato and onion underneath with two large lamb shoulder joints on a rack above.  The fat from the lamb renders down onto the potatoes over the 6 hours it takes to slow cook and gives the potatoes a really rich flavour.  The lamb and potatoes were served accompanied by a gem lettuce and mint salad.  The salad freshened up what could have been a rather heavy dish.  Bryn said "If anyone says they can't cook, I'd challenge them on this one because the oven does most of the  work."

I stumbled away from the event chock full of fabulous food, and a little wine.  I fully support the campaign, not just because they fed me delicious food, but because it's about time people realised and were convinced that if they only buy certain cuts they are missing out on wonderfully easy, tasty and cheap lamb dishes.  I think the main reason for the "only certain cuts" mindset is that people feel really daunted by different cuts and it takes them way out of their cooking comfort zone. 

We need to spread the word and show people how to cook different cuts of meat which would broaden their culinary horizons and also make their pennies stretch further.  Learning how to buy and cook meat differently is simple, read blogs, google recipes, look at cookbooks from the library or chat with your local butcher.

Another popular opinion, that was evident when I discussed the event with friends and neighbours, is that lamb is a roast or chops on a BBQ.  Although you can quickly cook up lamb chops and steaks, most people save lamb for a roast or make curries and stews from cheap, poor quality supermarket stewing lamb.  There are so many ways to cook lamb quickly, cheaper cuts that are delicious when cooked the right way, and people need to realise that lamb doesn't have to be an expensive huge lump of roasted meat reserved only for special occasions.

And, as Bryn said "I don't cook Welsh Lamb because I'm Welsh and it's Welsh, I cook it because it's the best lamb and is consistently good." He prides himself on only using the best produce in his restaurant and I can attest, it's DAMN GOOD!  Give Welsh Lamb a try, Waitrose stock it and when it's on offer, it's reasonably priced.  Failing that, have a chat to your local butcher and see what's available.

You can also find Welsh Lamb on Twitter and Facebook.

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