How many people actually really know where their dinner came from? How many people really care?
In this day and age we seem to be becoming more and more insulated from the realities of where our food comes from and how it got into the neat little packages which you load into your trolley’s and take home. Our hunter and gatherer instincts seemed to of changed into one of selection when we are choosing which cut from which animal.
One thing I did notice since living in Spain is how we do not generally call the meat we eat by the same name as that which is living. Take for example Pork, the animal is called a pig yet we call the meat Pork. When you think about pork or beef you do not conjure up a picture of an animal but instead a food product, so it makes it easier for some people to eat. With something like Chicken no one really bothered to think up another name as it is a small animal which not even many vegetarians have a problem with eating. But here in Spain the animals and the meat have the same name as they are not as sensitive as other cultures, you will also find there are far less vegetarians here as well for this same reason.
Chefs deal with butchery everyday and yet many of us have no idea of the steps involved before it came to us, this is a shame!
Anyone who is easily offended or has a sensitive stomach should think about not reading any further (this means I do not want to get hate mail from any vegetarians or Vegans as has happened in the past).
OK, so if you are still reading this means you are doing so at your own risk…………………………………………
So now I would like to tell you a little story which is a bit of a cross between Shrek (there is a donkey) and Quinten Tarantino’s Hostel.
The arrival is innocent enough with a Donkey carelessly chewing on Grass in a lush field with a backdrop of wineries as far as the eyes can see, we happen to be at the most popular lamb on the spit restaurants in Croatia (they have asked that I not mention the name due to possible health and safely issues from the Government). In this restaurant you order the lamb by the Kilogram and the only garnishes are bread roasted in a wood fire and fresh scallions to chew on while you have the lamb in your mouth.
It wasn’t so much different to other lamb I have had on the spit except for how crispy the skin was but while still having meat which is still relatively juicy even in the thinner parts of the belly. So I asked the waiter why this was and he explained to me that the lamb was still alive up until 2 hours ago. I actually laughed as I thought he was making a joke at my expense being the foreigner in his country, but I realized he was serious when he looked offended when I asked him if he could next time bring me the lamb on a leash in the restaurant so I could choose which one I wanted (like with Lobsters). Obviously I was joking as I thought he was making fun of me.
So I asked to see the kitchen and if possible where the live lambs were kept, they graciously accepted.
It was true, this became obviously apparent when I saw only fridges for drinks and none in the kitchen. So they explained their reasoning behind this kill and cook theory as they said the fat in the lamb starts to become rancid from the moment it is killed and the only way to stop this natural process is to start cooking it. They even have a schedule to ensure the ultimate freshness for every customer, this is they kill 1 at 10:30am for any early diners in the restaurant, 6 more at 12:00 for the lunch service and then 4 before the dinner service. So being so obviously intrigued at their process they invited me back the following day to see the whole process from the killing to the cooking. Being a Chef my response was an easy one……… I would love to (said with a big smile across my face!)
As I arrived the following day I was led down to where the lambs are kept and as we were walking down I could hear the faint sound of pop music (the only reason I noticed is because I thought how out of place it sounded in such a setting). I arrived to the pens and was greeted by a very friendly and smiling Croatian man who was covered from head to toe in blood and wielding what looked to be the type of knife you would have in your home collection. He managed enough words in English that I understood he was asking if I wanted to see how he killed the lambs, of course my response was yes. So we went to one of the pens where he disappeared into another covered room and came out with a Lamb under one arm. I then followed him to another room which looked (and I am sure smelt) like one of the rooms in the movie “Hostel”, complete with blackened walls and floor which I am assuming is the result of many many years of blood and fat which has now become impossible to remove. The kill itself was pretty quick which I would of missed had I blinked, it was a simply knife to the jugular artery and then the lambs head was placed into a hole in the ground to allow it to bleed out. Without going into graphic detail let’s just say it took a while for the poor thing to finally stop thrashing around once it realized what was happening.
He took another one which he had just killed before I arrived and started on preparing it for the spit, he was kind enough to explain to me the whole time why he was doing each step and why it was important. Once he had the Lamb hung on the hook to start the very efficient task of prepping I began to laugh as I realized the work was being done while listening to “The Pussy Cat Dolls”, as this upbeat music couldn’t of been more out of place in this chamber of death. This was not the only time I laughed as when he was removing the stomach which was still steaming he withdrew his hands when his phone started ringing and he took the call while still covered in the lamb’s insides.
Anyway, that’s enough graphic details to paint enough of a picture for you to imagine the setting.
Finally I realized what the trick was to getting the skin so crispy and juicy (Obviously as well as how fresh it was), he removes the crépinette or the Caul (Fatty lining) of the Lambs stomach and wraps it around the outside of the lamb where it will come into contact with the coals. This was secured with a small bone he removed from the leg as if it were a tooth pick.
With the less than romantic part (Although I actually found it interesting and enjoyable) of the tour over I was led up to where they cook the lambs on the spit where I was greeted by a team of smiling faces yet again, I am sure these people love what they do! The wood fired spits were in an enclosed room where the air was thick from the ash and the temperature was almost unbearable, they were all sucking down beers to keep themselves cool.
The interesting difference with this restaurant is the freshness of the lamb, This is certainly the first restaurant I have been where the lambs are getting killed to order and starting to roast when the bodies are still warm (+/- 30 degrees Celcius). The result was a great example of well cooked lamb on the spit, certainly nothing life changing for me but a great experience and insight into the culture here and how they believe lamb is best prepared.
The below link is to a 6 photo slide show of the more tame photos which will not offend.