The centrepiece of our Melbourne Food and Wine Festival dinner was always going to be our beef and lamb. A dinner in early in March was going to be perfect timing – reliable spring and summer rains in our district mean the pastures are still lush and green through January and February, normally ideal for finishing animals for such a feast.
But the spring and summer of 2015/16 proved to be the driest on record! By October we started to implement our drought policy -
And when we sold the last of our young cattle in this month, we selected 6 of the best heifers to retain for our dinner. We would run them with the lambs to ensure they were never short of feed. (We can’t emphasise too much the importance of a stress free life to produce beautiful meat, and good nutrition in the last few weeks is vital.)
So it proved to be we got to the last week of January with all the green feed gone, and our lambs and cattle sent to the butchers, having been spoilt on the best of our grass. The carcasses passed all the quality assessments – good colour, nice level of fat cover and hitting the target weights – 22kg for the lambs, and 210kg for the cattle.
We asked Josh Pelham, from Estelle Bistro in Northcote, to prepare the meal for us – he’s one of the rising stars of the Melbourne culinary scene. It was for him to select the specific cuts he wanted to showcase for the dinner, and lamb shoulder on the bone and the beef scotch fillet got the nod.
But how was a gun chef going to prepare and serve a 4 course meal for 26 in a domestic (and ageing) kitchen? Well …….. quite easily as it turned out. Thorough planning, lots of preparation, a cool head and flexibility proved to be the keys to success.
The "glazed shoulder of Malabar Farm lamb" was a work of art. Presented as little bricks, the lamb had been slow cooked for many hours, then the meat plucked from the bone, pressed into layers then cut to portion size. On the plate, once the knife and fork hit "the brick", it crumbled apart into mouth size pieces of tender and delicious lamb. An accompanying sauce had been made from the lamb cooking juices – a reduction of these juices concentrated the flavours which took the lamb dish to another level.
13kg of scotch fillet had been precooked and vacuum packed by Josh prior to his arrival. He’d actually cooked the meat at low temperature in a water bath, then returned it to a water bath at Malabar to give it a lovely pink colour inside. All that was left was to brown the outside for some caramelisation, using a combination of our BBQ and pizza oven, which had been doing its work cooking the vegetables.
It was immensely satisfying to see our guests enjoying the fruits (or meats??) of our labour. Lots of planning and work goes into producing good meat – for this night’s beef, the planning started two and half years ago when selecting the bull with the right genetics.
But we can’t overstate the importance of Josh’s work in creating the dishes. He’s a modest man with immense talent, and we look forward to watching his progress through the industry. Who knows – we might be able to lure him to Gippsland again!