A Taste of New Zealand in Orange County
t was a staple in my family growing up — lamb, seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary, and broiled in the oven until the outer edges had just a touch of char. One slice of a knife would release the juices of the rich, pink meat inside. To this day, I think of lamb as comfort food. I also can’t help but remember that scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” when Aunt Voula learns the groom-to-be is vegetarian: “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? That’s OK, I’ll make lamb.”
And the dish prepared by Fisher & Paykel Executive Chef Rob Wilson for this issue’s Single Ingredient is undoubtedly befitting the kind of celebration that served as the theme of the 2003 rom-com. It was, quite simply, art on a plate.
“Lamb wasn’t really on the menu when I was growing up, but once I started training and cooking in professional kitchens, my obsession with lamb grew very fast,” says Wilson. “I think lamb is more of a special-occasion dish in our country. I feel that most people are intimidated to cook it, and it’s just not the first thing they would purchase or consider when having a nightly meal.”
It is, of course, no surprise that Chef chose lamb from New Zealand. That’s where Fisher & Paykel is headquartered, and the country’s cultural and philosophical roots run deep. The company culture is built around four words that go far in describing the New Zealander mindset: real, generous, human and curious. That’s a mantra, of sorts, and it’s reflected in everything the company does — from the design of its premium appliances and products to the experiences it creates for the communities the showrooms serve. The Fisher & Paykel Experience Center in Costa Mesa, for example, plays host to fundraisers like the Secret Chefs Society, which benefits the Golden Rule Charity, a nonprofit that helps hospitality industry workers in times of crises.
New Zealanders also display a certain reverence for nature — perhaps the result of its Maori heritage. The Maori believe that all creatures are kin and deserve respect, which may explain why New Zealand livestock is so choice. The sheep are left to graze in the fields — no grain in those diets.
If it’s wow factor — on top of deliciousness — that you’re after, you’ll get it with Chef ’s basil-crusted recipe. He serves it with baby spring veggies (because our fall is New Zealand’s spring) — carrots, beets, parsnips, onions, radishes and sugar snap peas, with a few borage and viola flowers for garnish. Pop a bottle of New Zealand wine — a pinot noir or syrah — for the perfect pairing.
And, of course, sheep are found in abundance. Not so long ago, they vastly exceeded the human population — by about 20-to-1. By 2009, the Pacific island nation had become the world’s leading exporter of lamb. (The country’s population has grown since then, and the number of sheep has declined some — the ratio is more like 6-to-1 now.)
“The thing I like the most about New Zealand lamb is that the sizing is very consistent, and the animals are always grass-fed,” notes Wilson. (The sheep are slaughtered young, yielding meat that is tender and flavorful.) The secret, he says, is to not overcook it: “If I’m roasting a rack of lamb, I remove it from the heat source at 107 degrees, let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes, and it’s perfectly medium rare, as it should be served.”
Basil Crusted New Zealand Rack of Lamb With Kumara Puree, Mint English Pea Puree, Spring Baby Vegetables and Violet Mustard Lamb Sauce
- 2 New Zealand lamb racks
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 8 basil leaves
- 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
- Baby vegetables of choice
English Pea Puree
- 1 cup English peas, blanched and shocked
- 15 mint leaves
- 1 cup ice water
- Sea salt to taste
Kumara (Yam) Puree
- 1 medium kumara, peeled and diced into cubes of equal size
- ¼ cup onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 cup orange juice
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup lamb or veal demi-glace
- 1 cup pinot noir
- 1 shallot, rough chopped
- 1 thyme sprig
- 5 black peppercorns, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbs. violet mustard or whole grain mustard
- 1 tbs. European-style butter
Remove the fat cap, and remove the seven center bones, leaving only the two end bones attached. Cut the rack in half. Roast in a 350-degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 107 degrees (medium rare). Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Then lightly coat the lamb with the Dijon mustard and dust with the basil crust.
Combine the basil leaves with the panko in a small food processor or blender and puree.
English Pea Puree
Add all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Kumara (Yam) Puree
Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and simmer until fork tender. Puree in a blender and adjust seasoning to taste.
In a medium saucepan, combine the pinot noir, thyme, bay leaf, crushed peppercorns and shallot. Bring to a boil and reduce by three-quarters. Add the demi-glace and mustard, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Fold in the butter and adjust seasoning. Strain through a chinois and keep warm until ready to serve.
Spoon a portion of the kumara puree and a portion of the lamb sauce onto each plate. Top the kumara puree with baby vegetables and finish with a single rack.