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Cape Town - There are several ways of deboning a leg of lamb. I’m not entirely sure what they are, although there are meaty recipe books which give you detailed instructions.
I don’t doubt that there’s a French way, and a very English way, and quite possibly a Welsh way, given that Wales has such excellent spring lamb. There may even be subregional ways; la methode provencale, perhaps, or the more rudimentary methode bourgeois, which probably involves more hatchet than finesse, or a method the ancient shepherds in the fens of the Lake District passed down from generation to generation.
My own way was self-taught, so it is probably laughably wrong. Years ago, I learnt a very sensible method: ask your butcher to do it. This is fairly failsafe, although I have found that there are butchers who do it with finesse and others who very much live up to their moniker and truly butcher the thing.
But when we had a tiny restaurant in a Karoo town, I learnt to do it myself, partly because I imagined the affable local butcher, Ian, would think I was a pretentious t**t from the city, and partly because the butchery there was always madly busy, an endless chatter of customers who would have to stand around muttering darkly about die Engelsman while Ian took a bone out of a piece of meat for the new boy in town.
The queue at Ian’s butchery was an illustration of why the near destitute turn to offal, and why in many cultures the parts of the beast shunned by many people, especially those blessed with more income, became staples of what used to be called peasant cuisine. But these people were no peasants. The people of these Karoo towns suffer the worst consequences of apartheid, and many still languish today in conditions so dire that a government 20 years into democracy ought to put its hand up, say ‘we failed’, and exit quietly.
So to stand in that queue for your order of lamb shanks, legs of lamb, thick-cut rump steaks from George and racks of lamb – the lamb all from nearby farms in the Sutherland region – was often uncomfortable.
The diet, for the people in the Skema and the Kerkgrond – the remnants of the “locations”, as they were once called, on each side of the road at the edge of the town – is frankly discards. They will pay a paltry amount of the almost nothing they earn for bits of fat to supplement the hearts, lungs and kidneys that keep them alive. And every Saturday afternoon a procession would wind up the dusty track to the poor man’s part of the cemetery on the hillside north-east of town, where a grim mound awaited another denizen of this blighted place. It is one of many things that sent me back to the city.
So, yes, better to teach yourself to debone that lamb leg. It beats rubbing salt into wounds.
As a rough rule of thumb, I identify the side containing the bone, and cut in from the opposite side, carefully and right through until you touch bone and then start easing along in either direction, following the bone, endeavouring to be as clean as possible rather than hack at it. There are parts where a trained butcher’s hand and eye would be a great help, but in the end you have a piece of meat which butterflies open. Slice a little into the thickest parts so that it will cook evenly.
Often I would marinate this in lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, ground black pepper, and lots of snipped rosamary and mint, and then braai it for about 20 to 25 minutes on very hot coals, turning frequently. This would give you five or six generous portions.
But a deboned leg of lamb can also be stuffed and rolled, and roasted in the oven. This is what I did at the weekend after breaking our lamb fast – it’s a long story.
Roast stuffed leg of lamb
1 leg of lamb, deboned by your butcher
2 Tbs butter
1 clove garlic
50g beetroot in julienne strips
1 orange (juice and zest)
2 cups spinach, wild rocket and watercress leaves (no stems)
4 to 6 thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper
Open out the deboned leg of lamb and season with salt and pepper all over (the inside, Daisy).
Melt 1 Tbs of butter and gently simmer 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped. Add the beetroot, cut into the slimmest sticks you can manage, and stirfry for a minute or two to soften. Add the grated zest of an orange – or half an orange if it’s a big one – and the squeezed juice of half of the orange, and simmer to reduce the juice. Spoon this into the centre of the butterflied leg.
In the same saucepan, add the other Tbs butter and add the picked leaves of the spinach, watercress and rocket. Quickly stirfy until it wilts which it will do in a few seconds.
Season with salt and pepper and and add the juice of the other half of the orange. Stir until the liquid has cooked away, then spoon the leaves on top of the julienne beetroot.
Pick the leaves from the thyme sprigs and sprinkle all over the exposed meat, then roll up and tie in three or four places with kitchen string. Season the outside of the rolled leg with salt and pepper, and douse with olive oil.
Roast in a 180ºC oven for 25 minutes per 500g plus another 25 minutes. For the 1kg leg (without bone) that I used, this amounted to 75 minutes in the oven. It came out perfect – pink in the centre, soft and tender, and the meat had been deliciously flavoured by the thyme and citrussy flavours at the centre.
Serve it cut into neat rounds. I added lamb stock to the pan juices and thickend it with a little cornflour dissolved in a little milk. It’s a dish to enjoy while being grateful for one’s blessings in life. - Weekend Argus