If you're English, Welsh or Scottish, perhaps you remember childhood Sunday lamb roasts. Or maybe you're of Indian origin and remember a relative making a lovingly stewed lamb curry. Or you remember slowly cooked kleftiko, falling off the bone, following hours of slow cooking? Either way, you probably loved it, and it is part of your food memories. But do you cook lamb yourself?
British lamb, despite being farmed to some of the highest standards worldwide, is not as widely purchased as it should be. The average age of the typical lamb purchaser is ever increasing, and the market share is dropping. Why?
Apparently, there is a perception problem. Lamb is seen as an unhealthy and fatty meat. This perception was as a direct result of the farming methods of the 1970s. Times have changed, however. Lamb is much lower in fat today and specific super low fat varieties are available.
People also consider lamb to be difficult to cook; time consuming and impractical in our busy contemporary world. This is not always the case.
I recently went to a cooking demonstration by one of the two "Incredible Spice Men", Cyrus Todiwala, to show how lamb can be quick, easy, healthy, fun and sustainable. Cyrus was awarded the 2014 BBC Food Personality Of The Year; unsurprising given how entertaining, informative and fun the Incredible Spice Men show was. However, Cyrus is not a mere TV cook; he is a true hands on restauranteur. With his wife, talented chef Pervin Todiwala, he runs Cafe Spice Namaste (the venue of this demonstration), Mr Todiwala's Kitchen (Hilton, Terminal 5, Heathrow), The Park Cafe (Victoria Park East) and Assado Waterloo.
Cyrus is a passionate champion of British produce and farming. He buys his lamb direct from the producer, choosing to buy whole lambs rather than "cuts" of lamb. He advocates supporting small producers who farm rare varieties and aims to achieve as close to "nose-to-tail" eating as is possible under the regulations. (Lamb heads and certain items of lamb offal are not permitted to be sold in the UK).
Much has been said about whether meat farming is ecologically justifiable. Without wanting to enter into a big debate, Cyrus reminded us that sheep are capable of grazing on land other animals cannot. Therefore sheep farming can happen on terrain and in conditions where much other farming is not possible. He told us that every 1 job in sheep farming leads to a further 7 further down the line.
Sheep do not have the same sustainability issues as cows. "The most sustainable animal which grazes is the sheep", Cyrus told us. There are none of the issues of methane production, ozone depleting fecal matter or water depletion associated with other meat production farming. He also suggested we looked at the issue of sustainability in a wider context; "sustainability is also about sustaining communities and preserving jobs in rural areas".
Cyrus was quick to advise us not to fear cooking lamb: "It is quite scary to some people, but lamb is quite easy to cook". His demonstration was geared to show how easy, quick and fun cooking with lamb can be, so it doesn't solely need to be saved for long-winded weekend cookery sessions.
If you are short on time, or cooking on a weekday night, then leg steaks, cutlets and chops are ideal. They are quick to cook. You can use a spice rub or marinade to infuse extra flavour, or keep it simple.
Breast of lamb, Cyrus advises us is an "unattractive" cut of meat which doesn't look very nice, but cooks well and is flavourful. It can be flattened, marinaded and grilled for speedy cooking.
I am delighted to feature one of Cyrus' recipes here. It's a doozy.
CYRUS TODIWALA’S LAMB IN CHILLI, GARLIC AND CINNAMON
Cyrus says of this dish:
“On the streets of Bombay and other cities, it is not uncommon to find a person perched on a hand cart in the evenings, fanning a brazier and in a little glass door cabinet there will be skewers of diced pieces of meat and offal. These are all marinated slightly differently and are made fresh to order as you stand there waiting for your order to be finished and served in a newspaper piece lined with a leaf. Some of those marinades can be quite strong but when the hot meat is served along with fresh red onion salad with mint, coriander and a squeeze of lime everything starts to taste amazing.”
Cyrus made us this Indian street food dish during the cooking demonstration whilst chatting away to us about his passion for British lamb and British farming. Obviously, being an expert chef, he wasn't going to miss a beat, chopping, preparing, blending, talking, and cooking at the same time. But I do think this is a simple dish which a home cook can make easily. It is true that there is a long list of ingredients, but once you have bought the spices listed, you will have a wonderful resource to spice up your cooking. You can use the spices in your regular cooking to add flavour or experiment with Indian cookery. Naturally, the results in Cyrus' hands, were delicious.
If you want to know more about lamb and find some simple lamb recipes, then do visit: www.tastyeasylamb.co.uk
675g lamb leg, shoulder or neck fillet, cut into 1 inch/2.5cm cubes
5-6 whole red chillies, broken into pieces
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 x 2-3 inch piece cinnamon stick or cassia bark, broken into pieces
1 x 3 inch piece ginger, finely crushed
6 garlic cloves, finely crushed
½ tsp ground black pepper
2-3 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt, to taste
Freshly chopped coriander, to garnish
(Raita to serve as a relish)
1. In a small pan dry roast the spices for a few minutes until they give off a great aroma and become crisp. They will change colour but do not allow to burn.
2. Cool and crush to as near a powder as you can get.
3. Transfer the spices to a blender or liquidiser with the ginger, garlic and oil then blend to form a smooth paste. You may need to add 1-2tbsp cold water too.
4. Spoon into a large bowl, add the lamb and coat in the masala, transfer to a sealable container and chill in the fridge for a few hours.
5. Either thread the cubes onto small kebab skewers (if using wooden ones soak in warm water for 20 minutes) and cook under a preheated grill or prepared barbecue for 6-8 minutes on each side
6. Garnish with coriander and serve with a cooling raita.
Recipe by Cyrus Todiwala, 2015.
Snigdha attended the Learn With Lamb cooking event as a guest of Cafe Spice Namaste. I did not receive any form of financial incentive to write this post.