As a butcher who is also a farmer there is one major constant across every type of meat that we grow and sell. Some parts of the animal are less popular than other parts. For every beef tenderloin there is a brisket. For every lamb rack, there is a flap and for every pork belly, there is a pig’s head.
Prior to opening up our own butcher shops, back when we just killed our own to eat, these other cuts were also in the bottom of our freezer. They were the last bits to be used before we started the process again or in many instances they were minced or turned into sausages, which is still a very common result for cuts like these when you are dealing with a perishable product like meat.
Eleven years ago in the aftermath of one of the large supermarket chains reneging on a longstanding handshake deal to buy cattle from us, without warning, our family took the momentous step of selling the beef and lamb we grew in our own butcher shops.
I had a dramatic career change and found myself behind the counter of the first butcher shop the family acquired, taking instruction form the skilled butchers who taught me how to wield a knife. It was a steep learning curve. I also understood from very early on, that the customers standing on the other side of the same counter also had a lot to teach me.
It wasn’t long before I came to realise that selling the well known, primary cuts was straight forward: customers knew what they were, how to use them and sought them out. But there are a limited number of these ‘sweet’ cuts in every carcase and the challenge was to sell the rest, the cuts often referred to as ‘secondary’. I prefer to call them under-utilised. Because the truth is, with a little more knowledge, the customer who buys these under-utilised cuts can have a sensational eating experience and keep cash in their pockets.
Over the last 11 years, I have learned a lot about getting the best from these cuts, through supplying some of Australia’s best chefs and being exposed to a lot more cooking techniques. There are cuts I never even knew existed because they are removed in a processing step, such as onglet or hanger steak, a beautifully tender and strong flavoured beef cut. There are also muscles that if trimmed differently, go from stewing meat into a tender grill steak, such as if you trim the oyster blade to reveal the flat iron or feather steak. The muscle on the cap of a rump actually runs against the grain of the rest of the muscles and if separated and cut across the grain, results in pichuana, a more versatile and yielding piece of steak.
These alternative cuts can be harder to learn about as they have different names in different parts of the world. Also, often, if getting the best out of a cut is the challenge, then looking to the culture in which it is named and prized, is a good start. For example Koreans and Argentines love the beef short rib with good reason and can teach us a lot about cooking techniques. Look to the Taiwanese and Vietnamese for cues on preparing beef shin, the Greeks for cooking lamb and goat, and no one understands pork better than the Chinese. The list goes on.
A misunderstood cut in Australia is brisket, which makes up seven percent of a beef carcase, but barely features in home cooking repertoires. There is a place that reveres brisket, a place that is occasionally likened to Australia, so it is to Texas we can look for lessons in serious barbequing. Though, what we call barbequing and the Texans call barbequing, are extremely different things.
The Texan BBQ is fascinating to me, based on a ‘low and slow’ philosophy, so different from our often-searing BBQ hot plates. In some ways, the Texan style of BBQ is like sous vide, or cooking in a bag, combined with fire and smoke. You have the textural softness sous vide can deliver with the full on flavour that only a fire can provide.
You may have had ‘pulled pork’, a now extremely popular dish that, if done authentically, follows Texan BBQ-style techniques. I had a lightening bolt moment and wondered why we couldn’t use the same technique for lamb. We did, as shown in accompanying photos, and it is spectacular.
This lamb shoulder was done in an American style BBQ, low and slow 16 hours in all, ‘til it could be pulled gently with a fork with the bones totally clean. We threw out the brioche bun popular with pulled pork and chose a flatbread and mixed yogurt with classic Greek flavours for lamb and then garnished it with foraged wild rocket, river mint and watercress.
We have very high quality produce in Australia, but perhaps we have been too content with the obvious, happy to settle for the cuts we all know and understand. However, if we look to other parts of the world, there is much we can learn and the lessons are delicious.
Richard Gunner is the owner of Feast! Fine Foods. Richard’s recipe for slow roasted pulled lamb wraps is below.
SLOW ROASTED PULLED LAMB SHOULDER WRAPS
1 square cut lamb shoulder - chine and neck bone removed
250ml beetroot juice
Spice mix by volume
3 parts sumac
3 parts cumin
2 parts salt
1 part sweet paprika
1 part ground mustard seed
1 part turmeric
1 part ground oregano
100ml sour cream
100ml greek yogurt
Teaspoon crushed garlic
Dessert spoon finely chopped preserved lemon
1-2 teaspoons of spice rub above
Greens – wild rocket, watercress, rivermint
Medlar jelly (quince jelly is a substitute (not quince paste))
Offset smoker or Yoder pellet grill – they are built to do this!
Meat injector – for added moisture and flavour
Remote thermometer – this is cooked to temperature so this make that part of the job much easier, I wouldn’t try this recipe without a meat thermometer of some sort
Inject the meat with beetroot juice. Let rest overnight or for at least 30 minutes. Rub all over with spice mix (make sure you reserve a little for the sauce later on). Place in Yoder or offset smoker running at 105-110degrees Celsius. If you do not have this piece of equipment a weber type kettle can be used in conjunction with an oven for similar results. If using a weber, once the meat has reached 68 degrees C internal, take it out of the weber and wrap it in foil put it in the oven set to 105 degrees C.
Once the meat gets to 88 degrees in the oven, open up the foil and cook for another 30 minutes or so – until the surface dries up and the meat underneath is soft and yielding.
If cooking in an offset or Yoder, then the lamb will be cooked somewhere between 91 and 95 degrees C – it should take around 12-16 hours depending on the size of the lamb shoulder.
Most importantly, when done properly the lamb should come off the bone easily with nothing left stuck to the bone.
You can pull the lamb with a fork but it can be a good idea to “pull” the lamb wearing a clean pair of dishwashing gloves. While pulling look for and remove any remaining nubs of fat (most will have rendered off the meat)
For the sauce, combine the sour cream and yogurt with the garlic and preserved lemon and put 1-2 teaspoons of the spice rub in
To serve spoon sauce onto a wrap layer with lamb, greens and tomato, stud with flecks of medlar jelly. Roll it up and enjoy