Roast Leg of Lamb Day is coming up on 7 May - not that we need an excuse to enjoy this most delicious of New Zealand ingredients. We twisted sheep farmer, Richard Kidd's arm and convinced him to share his own roast lamb secrets.
If you were asked to think of one food that reminds you of home - of everything that is so mouthwateringly good about New Zealand produce - what would you say? For many, roast lamb would spring to mind almost immediately. Tender, slow-roasted lamb infused with rosemary and garlic has to be one of the world's greatest comfort foods.
New Zealand lamb has long been lauded for its naturally delicious flavour and delicate texture, but how should you cook that leg of lamb in your fridge? There are thousands of recipes online, from the basic - requiring little more than a splash of oil and some seasoning - to the more complicated, utilising exotic spices and a trolley load of other ingredients.
We nagged Richard Kidd, sheep farmer at Whenuanui Farm, the producers behind the popular Kaipara Lamb brand, until he spilled his secrets. Read on for Richard's top tips, straight from the sheep farmer's mouth.
How can you make sure you're buying a great piece of lamb?
New Zealand lamb is in season for 3-9 months from late October. It is not usual to see it frozen when in season so buy from the chiller if you can. When you look at certain cuts, it is also a lot paler than beef because it is tender and young.
Kiwis are becoming increasingly aware of food miles and the benefits of enjoying fresh, local produce. With our Kaipara Lamb, shoppers at Countdown have responded very warmly and positively to knowing that their lamb was produced locally. Depending on where you are in the country, you should be able to tell where your lamb is from by checking the label (or asking your butcher if you're not sure). The more local, the better.
How often do you enjoy roast lamb?
We eat roast lamb when we have friends or family around for a meal. It always smells fantastic cooking when people arrive and sets a good scene for a convivial meal. The great thing about a roast is leftovers are a breeze (if there are any!) – and make wonderful sandwiches or salads the next day. It turns any meal into a special occasion. After 40 plus years of sheep farming our family still looks forward to a roast dinner and the great conversation that goes with it. Second helpings are the norm.
Do you have any tips for cooking an epic roast leg of lamb?
We oil, salt and plug rosemary and garlic into the meat before roasting. Make sure the roast is wiped down (dry) with a paper towel first. Fan roast at 180 degrees for 2 – 2.5 hours depending on the weight and when finished cover with tin foil and let it rest for at least 15 – 20 minutes before carving it. This gives you time to make a real gravy in the juices of the roasting pan (drain off any fat first).
What are your must-have sides?
Our favourites are a fresh green salad with a selection of roasted vegetables (potatoes, kumara, parsnip, pumpkin etc.,) Mint sauce is a must (we love Whitlock & Sons).
What about a drink – do you like the traditional glass of red with your lamb?
Lamb being a pink meat matches well with a lighter red wine. You can’t go past a good Central Otago or Martinborough Pinot Noir.
Why is New Zealand lamb so flipping good?
New Zealand lamb has a great reputation for being grass fed, and grown naturally in a healthy out of doors environment. It is also hormone free. At Kaipara Lamb, we do not give our lambs any growth promotants, just good grass, fresh water, air and a lot of care.
How has sheep farming changed since you started out?
We have been sheep (and beef) farming at Helensville for 42 years. In that time there have been many changes. When we started, $20 was a good price for a prime lamb! Given the labour intensive nature of sheep farming operations, it has been a long struggle to achieve prices for lambs that reflect the premium product it is. With sheep numbers now more than halved in New Zealand from earlier highs and many larger farms converting to first dairy and in more recent years now forestry, falling sheep numbers and improved productivity have led to much improved prices in recent times.
Where can we find your lamb?
All of our lamb is sold in New Zealand via Countdown stores from October until early March under our own brand of Kaipara Lamb.
Richard's Roast Lamb Recipe
Leg of lamb weighing 2.5kg
1 garlic bulb
1 bunch rosemary
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 glass red wine (about 250ml)
1.2l beef or lamb stock
1. Using a sharp pointed knife, make at least 30 small incisions all over the meat. Peel 4 garlic cloves, thinly slice them and prod a slice into each incision. Next, pull off small sprigs of rosemary and push into the incisions, too. If done in advance, cover the lamb well and refrigerate. Remove from the fridge 1 hr before roasting.
2. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Heat a large frying pan, add a little oil and brown the lamb all over.
3. Scatter the carrot, onion, remaining garlic and rosemary in a large roasting tin, pour in the wine and stock, then place the browned lamb in the tin.
4. Roast for about 1 hr 45 mins. Turn the lamb halfway through so by the time it’s cooked, each side has been in the stock. When cooked, remove the lamb and allow to rest in a warm place covered in foil for about 30 mins.
5. While the lamb is resting, make the gravy. Pour all the stock from the tin through a sieve into a saucepan to remove all the vegetables and herbs. This stock should be rich, slightly thick and have a great lamb flavour. Reduce it a little on the hob if you feel you want to concentrate the flavour, skimming off any fat that comes to the surface.
6. Serve the lamb with the gravy and roasted vegetables.