I wrote this piece for a Singapore magazine although it never made it to print. The editors wanted to change things, even though it covered the brief to the letter, and I refused to change things.
Did I tell you how much I dislike editors! They are an antibiotic for creativity; a writer’s condom and its strictly missionary position only. It’s a strange interpretation of the English language, in Singapore, where newspapers and magazines for the adult audience are written in primary school prose.
This is a pretty tame piece I might add, certainly wouldn’t get a reaction from Anthony Bourdain. See what you think, and of course there’s always that little x at the top right-hand corner of the screen, if you agree with our Singapore editors.
Of meat and beer; being a New Zealander it will come as no surprise that I am partial to lamb, amorous jokes aside. By the same token, we Kiwi’s are equally as thirsty for beer as our Australian neighbours, although there is a leaning more towards micro-breweries and artisan ales in New Zealand, perhaps analogous with our strong English (Kentish, Cornwall) and Scottish ancestry, even if that is an eclectic and worrying ancestry.
My favourite brew is Christchurch based Three Boys Brewery www.threeboysbrewery.co.nz making a brilliant IPA, Indian Pale Ale that is, a style of beer that was born when fresh hops were added to barrels to preserve beer quality when shipping from England to colonial India.
IPA is a gentle beer that can be consumed in quantity, as they did in the heat of India, and we do in compotation in New Zealand. The unique qualities in the Three Boys IPA are the purest water from the South Island, outstanding organic hops that give it a wonderful aroma and pleasant bitterness, and the all important traditional ‘barrel conditioning’.
Like all good artisan beer, it tastes even better from the keg and it doesn’t get any better than straight from the tap at the Moutere Inn, www.moutereinn.co.nz, my favourite and oldest pub in New Zealand.
When it comes to lamb, you will find us more sophisticated Kiwi’s (oxymoron) prefer older lamb and even mutton, also more adventurous ways of cooking it than the conventional roast, which I do enjoy, but find it somewhat too predictable when entertaining guests.
Indeed my favourite recipe for cooking lamb, Arrosto di agnello al ginepro – Casserole-roasted lamb with juniper berries, has its rustic rural roots in Tuscany, a recipe from the Queen of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, from her timeless reference, “The Classic Italian Cookbook” (Macmillan).
This down-to-earth one pot dish is ridiculously easy to cook with practically nothing to do but watch the pot occasionally, and yet it is such a flavoursome and intriguing dish, one can embellish the narrative of your kitchen labours and intellectualise to impress your guests beyond all expectations.
The meat in this slow-cook technique is simmered right from the start with vegetables, wine and flavourings with no browning or cooking oil involved as the meat supplies its own fat and juices as it cooks.
You will need, 1 tablespoon chopped carrot, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, 1 tablespoon chopped celery, 2 cloves garlic (lightly crushed), a spring of fresh rosemary (or half teaspoon dried), 2 teaspoons juniper berries, 250ml dry white wine, salt and several grinds of the peppermill.
Serving 4 to 6 people, you will need a leg weighing around 1.5 kg, although I prefer larger, preferably bone in. The best lamb available in Singapore is Maori Lakes www.maori-lakes.co.nz, available through Culina www.culina.com.sg. Top chefs the world over use Maori Lakes lambs; raised naturally on the pristine pastures of New Zealand.
For mutton, a shoulder-cut works better, which I get from my trusted stall (01-127) at the Tekka Market, Haji M.N. Shahul Hameed. Incidentally, young goat (kid) is equally brilliant for this recipe, which Mr Hameed specialises in.
Throw it all in the pot! Yes, simply put all the ingredients into a heavy casserole and cover (lid closed), cooking on top of the stove at a low heat for 2 hours, turning the meat every 45 minutes. At this point the lamb should have thrown off a considerable amount of liquid. Set the lid askew, and cook for another 1½ hours at slightly higher heat. The meat should now be a rich brown colour and very tender when pricked with a fork.
Remove from the pot and carve at the table. I like to serve it with boiled new potatoes skin on and with plenty of butter melted over them and sprinkle of chopped parsley. Also, fresh garden peas boiled with some garden mint, all of which is a very countrified combination of Tuscany and New Zealand, perhaps more gumboots then Prada slippers.
I served up this dish to Giuseppe Mazzocolin, proprietor-winemaker of the legendary Chianti estate, Fattoria Felsina, who makes one of the most profound red wines on this planet, Felsina Fontalloro, a 100% sangiovese cuvee from 50 year-old vines.
Giuseppe joined us for lunch at the Wandering Palate table alfresco with a group of sangiovese enthusiasts and was mightily impressed by the pairing of his 2004 Fontalloro with the lamb, the nuances of juniper berry and rosemary that are prevalent in this wine, exuding from the dish and in such simpatico.
My note on 2004 Felsina Fontalloro:
Deep, dark blackberry and blackcurrant, and violets and blood rose petals amongst charred timbers, pipe tobacco and an intense infusion of rosemary, thyme and liquorice, also nuances of dried figs and prunes; resonates its terroir – the very salt of the earth – with hot terracotta, baked clay earthiness and the fragrant perfume of cedar forest and wild herbs on a summers day, intensifies with breathing and revealing balsamic and orange rind and briary, meaty savoury notes with deeper minerality of pumice, iron fillings and flinty gun-smoke; unmistakably and uniquely Chianti – completely absorbing and mesmerising bouquet! Much tighter on the palate, piercing redcurrant and raspberry, breathtakingly tangy and energised by invigorating, rapier acidity accelerating the piquancy of flavours across the palate; deceptively elegant, and yet there are chewy tannins infused throughout the wine (very sangiovese) with a dried-herbal thread and black pepper and star anise spiciness… an extraordinary wine – an iron fist in a velvet glove – that will age for 30 years easily, even though thoroughly enjoyable now.
Having avoided answering that “favourite wine question” for years, Felsina, and that is all of their wines, would come as close to it as I could possibly imagine… And to answer that other question, “Why don’t I have a Kiwi accent?” Well, the aristocracy of New Zealand don’t have an accent.
More at www.felsina.it
Felsina wines are available in Singapore through www.cellarmasterwines.com, in Hong Kong through http://pontiwinecellars.com.hk, in Australia through Trembath & Taylor www.trembathandtaylor.com.au and in the UK through Liberty Wines www.libertywine.co.uk