It’s time to celebrate one of New Zealand’s most iconic culinary products – delicious New Zealand lamb – a staple ingredient on most restaurant menus. Through the twenty years of the Beef + Lamb Excellence Awards we have been recognising and rewarding superbly cooked lamb dishes prepared by some of New Zealand’s most creative chefs who come up with inspirational ideas combined with top quality produce resulting in outstanding cuisine.
With National Lamb Day on February 15, now an annually recognised celebration, I thought it timely to ask our five newly appointed Ambassador Chefs what their favourite lamb dish of all times is and here is
what they said...
One of the newest additions to the Beef + Lamb Ambassador family is Andi Bozhiqi from Millhouse Restaurant, Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown. Andi was born in Albania and was raised on the freshest produce many could only dream of today. Everything was seasonal and he has memories of his grandmother churning fresh milk into butter, picking figs from neighbourhood trees and choosing a beast before it was butchered. So it’s no surprise his fondest lamb memory is from his childhood in Albania - lamb on a spit the old fashioned way – on an open fire.
This was something they did for family gatherings and Andi says cooking the lamb in this way gave it a unique smokey flavour and a crispy outside.
Andi is a great believer in provenance and is lucky to have a wonderful supply of merino lamb local to him in Arrowtown. The meat has incredible flavours as the sheep are living in the surrounding hills and eating foliage such as wild thyme and other herbs which helps Andi and his team create their award-winning lamb dishes.
Scott Kennedy of Nero Restaurant in Palmerston North says his favourite dish is a permanent fixture on his menu - pistachio nut and pumpkin seed crusted lamb cutlets, braised lamb neck fillets, crispy fried herbed crumbed sweetbreads, mint gels, feta cream filled profiteroles, caponata, Pinot Noir jus.
It’s so good, his loyal customers won’t let him remove it from the menu and it’s now an iconic dish of Nero’s. His customers love it and is especially good when his local supply of Coastal Spring Lamb is in season.
Shaun Clouston of Logan Brown in Wellington goes back to memories of his mum’s roast lamb dinner
. With the delicious aromas of a traditional roast lamb greeting him as he came home from school he enjoyed devouring the knuckle with the tender lamb falling from the bone - it was a real treat. Shaun, a third time Ambassador Chef says his philosophy on food and cooking is to serve classical but skilfully cooked dishes using good techniques to create a consistent result every time attributing to the huge success of Logan Brown.
For Hamilton based chef Andrew Clarke, one of his most favourite lamb dishes was from their very first menu at Victoria Street Bistro - braised lamb neck, aromatic couscous, onion bhaji, and preserved lemon
Andrew says he cooked the necks on the bone with cumin, chilli, thyme and manuka honey. They came out packed with flavour, glazed on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. He would wiggle the bone out before serving the necks whole. The couscous loaded with fresh herbs would soak up all of the reduced braising liquid and a zesty preserved lemon and saffron purée gave a good balance to the dish. This was real comfort food with the volume turned right up.
For Christchurch based chef, Reon Hobson (Pescatore at The George) heading down to Wanaka last year to judge the Glammies was one of his most memorable lamb experiences.
The Glammies is a national farmer contest to find the most tender and tasty lamb in the country. Judging which lamb is the best in New Zealand calls for the expertise of New Zealand’s top chefs and Reon says judging the competition was a great reminder of the superb quality of lamb we have in New Zealand and he loved being part of the show.
However when it comes to his favourite lamb dish he couldn’t go past his childhood memory of lamb done in a hangi with all the trimmings surrounded by family and friends.
Happy National Lamb Day!