Friday, 19 February 2016

Recipe CXXV: Minced Lamb Ragout

PREAMBLE: Recently, I have been giving a lot of thought to the process of making meat. And especially to the principles and ethics behind it. There are a lot of videos out there, some let's face it on the wacky side and some very shocking, on the way meat is made. There are videos of shocking cruelty, as well as heartbreaking suffering. Some of the things animals put up with are atrocious. Good animal husbandry is, however, expensive. 

To make good food without breaking your budget is what many of us strive for, but this comes at another cost. Many farmers now are overwhelmed by the need to mass-produce and at the same time supermarkets force them to cut corners because they want to have the lowest price amongst their competitors. We should not be surprised to learn about these distressing facts. When I see a chicken for sale for 3 or 4 euro, I want to say a silent prayer for it. If only I believed, I would.

I would prefer to pay up to double the going rate for my meat, if I know where it was sourced and I can be assured the animal led a wholesome and happy life. And how can we stop farmers going out of pocket, supermarkets from undervaluing their stock and most importantly of all the unnecessary suffering of animals? By eating less meat and paying more for it. A more varied diet will also benefit our health.

At the moment, I am spending the month in the Belgian city of Leuven, which has several very good butchers, all with solid reputations. Rondou is the butcher par excellence in the city, and it was here that I came to buy some minced lamb.

Back in Germany, the idea of mincing lamb is as odd as the idea of buying clothes because they're smart, not because they're cheap; or not complaining if a train is one minute late. Which is why I want to do this recipe, because even though it's very simple, in fact one of the staples, it is the main ingredient that is the star of the show.

When people in the town where I live go to the butcher, they ask for meat with very little fat. Fat, they think, is bad. I cringe at how the butchers remove the skin and fat layer from a pork cutlet; I die a thousand deaths when I see them slicing meat the wrong way because it's just the next bit; but I often have to leave my place in the queue when I hear someone complaining that their steak has too much fat. They don't realise that the marbled effect in steak is what gives it its tender qualities. 

What does lean meat do in the pan or oven? It hardens to the consistency of an old boot. Why would I want to do that? I want food that appeals to my eyes and stomach; that is easy and pleasing to eat; that gives me a memorable experience; that appeals to my senses, as well as fills me up. I do not want to eat just to take on the necessary calories to get me through the rest of the day.

Method: Lamb meat is by nature fattier than other meats; I guess it's because sheep run about less than other animals... anyhow, it makes a very succulent ragout.

Take the minced lamb and chop 4 cloves of garlic for every 500g. Add fresh or dried herbs, mainly rosemary and thyme, plus the appropriate amount of salt and pepper. Give it a good mixing until it is consistent. You can put it in the fridge until required, if necessary.

Half a pepper, 5 brown mushrooms, 2 onions (one red, one white), half a courgette, some fresh tomatoes, some tinned tomatoes, some red wine, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

Slicing technique:
Cut your courgette lengthways down the middle twice, but not to the very end. This will make it easier to cut into slices.

Put a good thick layer of olive oil in a pan and fry the onions on a medium-low temperature for a minute, followed shortly by the other vegetables (except tomatoes). Let them sweat for a while. Add the minced lamb and mix thoroughly until all ingredients are spread equally throughout the pan.

Add the non-tinned tomatoes and once the mince has browned, add the tinned tomatoes.

Put in as much wine as you like - I use half a bottle over the coming 30 minutes, keeping the whole thing nice and moist.

I served mine with linguine, but some boiled potatoes would have been just as good.