Lamb is lamb is lamb, but is it?

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As a former vegetarian, I’m not sure now’s the best time to begin eating meat again. When I quit eating meat at 15 years old, it was a rebellion thing. I said at the time that it was about animal cruelty, but it wasn’t really. Like most 15 year olds, I didn’t have a clue.

As my blog readers will know, I’m a now chose-a-tarian – I eat some meat under some circumstances. Complicated I know.

Though lately, I have been thinking – should I know more about my meat and how it came to the shop shelves? Is the “New Zealand meat” stamp enough? Looking at SAFE videos, maybe not.

I’m squeamish at the best of times and do the old fingers in the ears singing lalalala trick if I have to think about things I don’t like. But it’s pretty difficult to go past what’s been on our screens in recent weeks. I realise we don’t know the back stories, we don’t know time frames, what’s typical what’s a rogue worker and so on, but it’s clear there are questions to be asked.

No, I am not an activist or SAFE member, but I do applaud them going public to engage New Zealanders and get the dialogue going. Hopefully we’ll see some standards adopted and bad practises disappear. We have a right to know not only the origin of our food but how it was prepared and the journey to our plates. And, animals, bred for eating or not, have a right to be treated well.

I picked up a leg of lamb from the supermarket the other day – fingers crossed it’s from an ethical farmer. Bigger fingers crossed that there will be an accurate way of me telling that it is in the not too distant future.

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to my friend Adrianne, who was a sheep farmer when I first met her. My how times have changed, she’s now a student and I’m a lamb eater. We didn’t see that coming all those years ago.

It’s another slow cooked lamb recipe. Along the lines of my last one, but even easier to make and with the citrus zing of lemon. The reason for a similar but different recipe is because (a) it’s the only way I eat lamb – none of this rare almost in the paddock meat for me; (b) it’s easy to make – the result far outweighs the preparation effort; (c) the ingredients are what I had in the house.

What you’ll need

1.5-2kg leg of lamb, bone in

10 cloves garlic

Zest and juice of one-two lemons

Glug of olive oil

Freshly ground pepper

Salt

3 medium red onions

250-300g puy lentils (French green lentils, although I used mung beans today as had run out of lentils)

Fresh rosemary – a few large sprigs

2 fresh bay leaves

750ml chicken stock (or 500ml, mixed with 250ml water)

250ml red wine

Knob of butter

How to make it

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With a mortar and pestle, pound the peeled garlic, lemon rind, juice, and a splash of oil.

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You’ll end up with a nice thick paste.

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Chop excess fat off the meat (if there is any) and rub the garlic paste all over the meat and grind pepper over top. Loosely cover with clingfilm and pop into the fridge for a few hours or over night – although remember to remove the meat from the fridge an hour before cooking.

Heat oven to 250C.

Meanwhile, find a baking dish that will fit the whole leg in. I’ve got a couple of cast iron dishes that work well as you can use on the stove top and oven. Put a good splash of olive oil in the bottom of the dish.

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Roughly cut the onion and cook in the baking dish for about three-five minutes, turning so not to brown (I used a leek as well today as I had it in the fridge). Move the onion to one end of the dish and brown the meat for about seven minutes on both sides.

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Turn the onions from time to time so they don’t burn – you may need to add some more oil. (If your dish isn’t stove proof, this can be done in a fry pan, then added to a baking dish.)

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Turn the element off and spread the onion under the lamb, add the lentils, throw in the rosemary and bay leaves, give the lot a good grind of salt and pepper then pour over the wine. Let this bubble for a sec (the residual heat of the pan will allow it to bubble. Then add 500ml of the stock. Break the butter into pieces and put over the top of the lamb. Loosely cover the whole baking dish with foil and carefully put into the oven.

Turn the oven down to 130C. Bake for two hours, then turn the lamb over, add an extra 250ml of stock and recover. Bake another two hours.

Remove the foil, turn the lamb and bake a further one to one and a half hours (so 5-5 1/2 hours in total).

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The meat should be coming away from the bone and be very tender. Remove from the oven and cover with foil for 30 minutes.

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To serve, remove the rosemary and bay. The meat will easily pull off the bone. Mix the lamb through the lentils and season further if required. Discard the lamb bone. Serve with salad and vegetables.

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The leftovers are going into a lamb pie tomorrow night. And anything spare after that, into wraps. This is the perfect meal for a group or the meal that keeps giving all week long. And don’t let the cooking time factor put you off, once it’s in the oven there is so little to do.

This goes well with my new discovery of the week – Barker’s Mountain Moonshine, a great mulled wine pre-mix. Something perfect to sit back and enjoy pre-dinner while the oven’s doing the work for you.

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