Huw Oliver was a lifelong vegetarian until lockdown – not by choice, but out of hippyish family custom. Twenty-five years of no meat. Then he got stuck in a house with a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. Desperate to inject some sort of excitement into his life, he has decided to cook and eat every available meat for the very first time. To his intestines (and his dad): sorry. This is Meat, Reviewed.
Week five: Leg of lamb
In a lifetime first, I’m carrying around half a leg in my bag. Not good. Not good at all. I can’t help but feel like a criminal, and passers-by seem to be sizing me up. What if the Islington carabinieri come for me?
At the butcher’s, I went for the shank end of a British lamb leg. Welsh, I hope. As a test – and also to assert my carnivorous knowhow after the counter bloke looked at me agape when I asked, ‘Excuse me, do you have any legs of lamb?’ – I didn’t ask the guy (‘Err, of course we do’) to butterfly the meat. In my boldest move yet, I am playing butcher. I will lacerate this lamb calf.
The prep Elastic skin: tough. Juicy interior: soft. It’s slippery, slimy and – barring the rolls of white fat – a strikingly deep russet. I feel strangely in my element as I gash it into chunks of even thickness. This is easy. When I half-close my eyes, the grooved slab looks Dalí-esque – the sort of deranged butterfly an interwar surrealist might paint. I let it sit in copious glugs of olive oil and balsamic, and stuff the folds with sea salt, slices of garlic and six or so bay leaves. Then it’s in the oven, at 200C for half an hour.
The guilt factor Maestro or not, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself as I prep the sides of tenderstem broccoli and buttery new potatoes with dill. There’s little time to think of my countryfolk bleating bore das on the flanks of the Cambrian mountains (though of course I wish them well).
First impressions I start with the well-cooked parts at either end. Having aimed for medium-rare, I’m a little disappointed. It’s good. It’s musky. But it’s chewy and doesn’t tear away in the delicate, generous way I was hoping.
The meat of the matter Closer to the bone I go. I knew it would be nicer here: redder, juicier, tenderer. This is the lamb meat connoisseurs rave about. Firmer than chicken but not quite as tough as beef, the texture’s spot-on. The juices, leavened by the olive oil and balsamic and garlic, make a killer sauce. Based on my limited experience, the flavour is, I think, intensely gamey. My housemates and I fight over the last luscious scraps.
The aftertaste Who’d have thought lil’ lambs would have it in them to offer such a potent meat-eating experience? I end on an icky bit of fat, but the residual sensation is that heady, moreish lamb-ness that’s so hard to put into vegetarian-sculpted words. It makes me think of my grandparents’ house near Llandrindod Wells and their many out-of-bounds roasts. Right now, amazingly, I’m there.
Verdict? So I’ve gone from a cheeky bacon butty to steak and now heaving a dismembered limb across the backstreets of north London. There’s no going back. I’ve mutilated a dead animal. My remorse, sorry to say, is non-existent. From butcher’s via chopping board to stupidly efficient roasting, this was all very satisfying. And damn tasty to boot. 8/10.
Next week: A Big Mac
Read the whole Meat, Reviewed series.
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