Allyson Gofton: Cheap lamb
How lucky are we to live in a part of the world that welcomes in the New Year in summer? Blue skies and hot sun, albeit with the usual annual dumping of tropical rains, provide the perfect backdrop to plan for the year ahead. Thus, this year in our home I am on a mission — more than usual — to eat cheap and cheerfully with very critical consideration given to packaging waste. The last of these goals is, I think, becoming my biggest bone-chewing annoyance. I apologise in advance in case you get somewhat tired of the subject.
Is it just me, or do you see the irony in the daily news bemoaning a planet overloaded with plastic waste with the constant need for producers to pander to retailers’ and consumers’ demands for pre-packed foods to fill the shelves?
In my early days of living here, retailers and consumers, who were then mainly female, fought a battle to get dirt-encrusted potatoes pre-washed before sale, to ease preparation time and mess. Rock on 30 years, and now I smile at the dirt-clinging spuds that sell in very stylish packaging, be it paper, plastic or cardboard box.
I am not sure if this is to prove freshness, but it surely helps set a price point advantage, while the packaging will certainly make sale of goods easier for the retailer. Oh, the idiosyncrasies of retailers and consumers.
Clearly, we have only paired plastic waste with plastic supermarket bags — and only probably because we feel affronted that we can no longer use them as bin liners — and not the plastic packaging we buy so much of our food in or on. I get that it’s health and safety arse-covering at all levels, but surely wrapping an iceberg lettuce in plastic is overkill!
We rent a classic holiday bach for two weeks each year. It comes complete with outside loo and a limit on tank water usage; it’s our place de recuperation. No one gets up early, you live in the surf, eat fresh corn for lunch and it’s barbecue sausages for tea. No chic, deli-like salads are served and, if luck is on your side, you get icecream in a cone for dessert while you watch TV on a screen smaller than my laptop. My teenage son is aghast at this, but as his father says: “In my day...” and I am sure you can fill in the rest, expletives and all!
Waiheke has many culinary jewels; the Oneroa butcher is one, and the Shacklock Orion 21 oven tucked in the corner of our bach’s camp-like kitchen another. The latter features three thin ring burners and the most even-cooking oven I ever use. There’s no steam cooking or fan-baking options but, truly, I wish I could take the oven home with me!
The butcher’s window, complete with blackboards advising the numerous wild fowl he procures, is a treasure trove of immaculately prepared cuts and bespoke smallgoods. There’s not a black polystyrene tray in sight. Tucked beside the skirt steak, beef short ribs and home-cured bacon are lamb flaps at $3 each — a bargain, yet a bargain with a bad reputation.
Mention lamb flaps to any average Kiwi and their eyes glaze over with images of boiled mutton flaps at a hangi, even if they have never been to one. Somehow the reputation precedes this cut. And it’s unfair! New season lamb flaps, slow cooked with any resulting fat lifted off before serving, make the finest pulled lamb, perfect for sandwiches, sliders, wraps or a light meal.
I acknowledge they’re certainly awkward to fit in a pan — pick the largest that you have — but the sweet meat, well-seasoned and slow-cooked, can easily be pulled from the bone and shredded or, if you have kids like mine, enjoyed eaten in the fingers; lip-smacking goodness.
A few rules apply, like making shallow cuts through the thin tough membrane that covers the top of the meaty side to prevent the cut twisting when cooking and allowing any flavours to permeate through the meat to the bone; browning the flaps well to avoid any potential for that boiled flavour and allow the browned caramel flavours and any seasoning to permeate; cooking long and slow and skimming off any fat before serving.
So often it is the simplest foods that have the best flavours, and, if you can make that without too much waste, then everyone wins.
See Allyson's recipe for Pulled Mexican-spiced lamp flaps