Thursday 11 June 2015

Lamb. Tasty Easy Fun with Cyrus Todiwala

I am feeling somewhat elderly. The other night I attended a really fun event, the launch of a campaign to get people eating more lamb, but the big thing that stood out to me is that apparently lamb eaters are an ageing demographic. Then this morning I discovered that it's been 26 years since Naomi Watts made the wise choice of lamb over Tom Cruise. 26 years. Damn that makes me feel old. Bah (baa?) humbug.

Now, I don't know if it is because I am Australian and Paul is South African, and we're required by law to eat lamb, or if it is because we are old, but lamb has never fallen off our shopping list. I don't know the actual reasons for the decline and the AHDB representative didn't really suggest anything concrete but I suspect there may be several reasons. I wonder if people who were children during the devastating 2001 foot and mouth outbreak remember the horrifying news footage too clearly? Or if they associate lamb with mystery meat kebabs, takeaway curries and grey Sunday roasts rather than considering it something to quickly and economically cook at home? Perhaps the value-added options at the supermarket haven't been so tempting or as diverse as for other meats. Or maybe it is the price - lamb doesn't lend itself to factory farming, so the price hasn't been pushed down to pennies the way intensively-reared pork and chicken has been. I absolutely refuse to accept the "they don't learn cooking at school" argument because I didn't learn anything of value in school cooking classes almost 30 years ago and yet here I am, moderately competent.
Cyrus Todiwala - passionate ambassador for British lamb
Anyway, the event was held at Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala's restaurant Cafe Spice Namaste. We had some delicious canapés to get us in the mood before the serious stuff. Sheek kavaab (minced lamb kebabs with dates, sultanas and walnuts), skewers of diced lamb with chilli, garlic and cinnamon and very unusual and delicious lamb breast and cauliflower in short, fragile biscuit cases.

They were all very good, but I was particularly intrigued by the lamb breast. We cook boned breasts of lamb on the barbecue quite often, because with a long, slow cook the (copious) fat renders out and you are left with layers of crisp skin and meltingly tender meat. These canapes were made in quite a different way which again rendered out the fat and just left succulent meat behind: it was slowly cooked then chilled and pressed before being cut into slices and tossed in a hot pan.
Breast of lamb and cauliflower
Sheek kavaab
Having had enough food to tantalise and pacify us, Jane Ritchie-Smith introduced the campaign. It's a joint effort by the EU and agricultural boards in the UK, France and Ireland which will be running for the next three years. Then John Kirkpatrick talked about his experiences raising sheep in Derbyshire and working with local butchers to create interesting varieties of lamb sausage and other value-added products. The main attraction, though, was Cyrus demonstrating a couple of recipes he's developed for the Lamb. Tasty Easy Fun campaign.
Other than watching Cyrus and Tony Singh's series The Incredible Spice Men, I wasn't too familiar with him but he is the most perfect person to champion British lamb. He spoke knowledgeably on the various breeds of sheep in the UK, agriculture and sustainability, interspersed with anecdotes about cooking for the Queen and the quirks of some of the farmers he buys from. All the while he chopped and sautéed and explained how spicing works in Indian food, the essential spices to get started and tips on food safety. He got an enormous amount of information into a relatively short and engaging presentation. As someone who hates food waste and loves using local produce, I found his approach very attractive: buying heritage breeds directly from farmers, butchering the carcasses himself and using every bit that he can.
Lamb cutlets 
After the demonstration, of course, came dinner. Starters of lamb cutlets simply flavoured with ginger and black pepper which I think Paul would absolutely love. Mini dosa, crisp on the outside, slightly crumpety in the middle, folded around deliciously spiced potato. Little samosas of lamb offal, drizzled with tamarind chutney and sev.
Mini dosa. Even at a lamb dinner not everything is meaty.
Samosa of spiced liver, kidney and sweetbreads
As a middle course we had the dishes which Cyrus had demonstrated. A pair of little lamb burgers stuffed with blue cheese and a quickly sautéed cannon of lamb garnished with coriander. They were both delicious - the cannon was incredibly tender and had cooked in moments - but I actually think I preferred the burger mixture raw, which we'd also tasted. This post is getting very long, so I am going to do another piece featuring the recipes, I think!
One mini burger on a bun, the other on a light tomato sauce
Cannon of lamb
The shared main courses were a rich lamb curry with a nice kick of chilli in the gravy, a delicate and delicious keema pilau and a fantastic dish of shredded Chinese greens with mustard seeds and coconut which I think would be considered a thoran. Apparently the veg dish is on their main menu at the moment.

The finishing touch was a dessert of kulfi and figs stewed in marsala. Pervin Todiwala was wandering around making sure all their guests were happy while Cyrus cleaned up his station, and she explained that the kulfi was so good because they make it in house. It was definitely the creamiest and most pistachio-y of the pistachio kulfis I have tried, and the almond and saffron one was also lovely - just subtle and perfect. Reminds me I need to dig out my kulfi moulds and have a go with Felicity Cloake's perfect kulfi recipe and see how it compares.


Joanne said...

I know in the US lamb is not very popular, though to be honest, it was my favorite meat when I still ate meat! I was certainly in the minority, though.

Bettina Douglas said...

Love the look of those cutlets.

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

I've been getting more and more invites for lamb dinners too, and I'm not complaining! Those lamb cutlets look delicious.

grace said...

i might like the flavor of lamb, but as silly as it sounds, i can't get over how adorably i've always found them. i've been up close and personal with some and i'm not sure i'll ever be able to stomach eating them. the food looks wonderful though! maybe if i was told it was beef...? ;)


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