FoodStuff - We're getting a lamb

By John Lethlean
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“We’re getting a lamb?” asked big ears with touching excitement.

"Yes," I replied, but I don’t think it’ll look much like what you’ve got in mind.

Took it pretty well I thought, given the explanation that this lamb – this whole lamb – was coming to dinner as the guest of honour. I had a head full of steam about this animal and it was riding roughshod over a 10-year-old’s sensibilities.

It’s easy to get carried away with the whole romantic pure-produce/first principles idea with food. And in the abstract, a whole milk fed lamb is a notion to nourish all manner of needs if your idea of great food is gnarly bits of meat cooked rustically with oodles of flavour; low on glamour, high on satisfaction. The whole Slow Food/do it yourself/massage it with love thing.

But concept and reality can take divergent courses.

The background? I was on the phone to smallgoods entrepreneur and man all pigs fear this time of year Andrew Vourvahakis discussing the specifications for a leg of porcine bliss - the ham order is an important conversation - when he said something about milk fed lambs from King Island.

Supplying a few restaurants, he said. Good product.

It must have been cold; the weather has a profound influence on what I’m thinking about eating. While the season was undoubtedly heading towards fish and salads, I started thinking about warming winter braises and red meat.

“Whole milk fed lambs, eh Andrew?”

It was meant to be a thought bubble; what would I, a bloke who can barely joint a chicken, do with a whole mammal? However I must have articulated some kind of moaning desire, or maybe it was a dodgy phone line, because the next week in a bright red “Andrew’s Choice” box arrived a lamb. Pretty much the whole beast.

I was excited. In the cryovac bag, in two separate pieces, were the rump/legs and the balance of the torso, dressed (I think that’s the correct expression for a carcass that’s ready to “break down”).

I cleaned out a shelf of the beer fridge, pushed lamby in tight and… Cripes! What next?

Excitement turned to trepidation. Was I really going to take my first butchery practical on this valuable carcass? Would I follow pictures in books, which belongs in the same category as making sense of architect’s drawings?

I turned up the boost on the fridge and waited for Fate to intervene, which he/she did about three days later when I asked a chef I was chatting to – Dwayne Bourke, from The Argo, a man good at all this primal stuff – what I should do with my lamb.

“Depends on what you want to cook, I suppose,” came his answer. It couldn’t be argued. But it didn’t get me any closer to doing something useful with my little sheep.

Then, like the voice of salvation itself, I heard the words: “Why don’t you bring it over and I’ll bone it out for you and re-cryovac it in a few different bags?”


By the time I got to Bourke’s kitchen towing the long-wheelbase Esky a few days later, I knew I wanted to make a wet roast – abbacchio alla romana – for a boys weekend (nice change from the barbecue) – and maybe keep at least one leg for roasting, but the rest….

“Good meat,” he said as he flicked his special knife around bones in a manner that suggested experience. It was pale and sweet-smelling. In the time it took for me to drink a coffee, we had the meat from two shoulders/forelegs/necks expertly removed from the bones in two separate pieces, two once conjoined legs ready for roasting and two loins with belly flaps for filling and rolling and roasting. And a lot of bones for the old dog (yes I know you don’t give uncooked bones to a dog, but believe me, it won’t be a brittle shoulder that takes a 15 year old arthritic lab from this earth). 

In the end, one of the legs had to be seconded to the abbacchio to get the quantity up for eight would-be surfers; it's one of those chuck-it-all in a pan kind of dishes – lamb, wine, stock, herbs, aromatics, tomatoes – that you finish with breadcrumbs and Parmigiano. I chucked in some anchovy too: not in the recipe, but what the hell. Very straightforward, and if I do say so myself, bloody great. We had it with polenta and artichokes out of my garden; my best impersonation yet of the mature, 30-something Jamie Oliver (allowing for the rather obvious age difference.)

And with a lot of vino and the latest RocKwiz trivia book, a great night of male bonding was had by all. And, having watched my chef, I feel ready to tackle the task personally next time a might-have-been-a-sheep comes a-knocking.

Now I need a boning knife. A no, son, we are not getting a lamb for the back yard. The only small ruminant I want to see round here is silent. Very.


From a collection of John’s food writing 2005-2008.

Follow John Lethlean and Necia Wilden on Twitter as they eat and drink their way around Australia

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June 30th, 2009
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