Monday, January 4, 2010

About an old Swartland Food Tradition Baaaaah

Happy New Year

I hope all of you had a good Festive Season and is ready to put all the New Year’s resolution into practice! It was a busy time, at least from an eating side and being “off line” for a couple of weeks, there is a lot to catch up on!

Now, in the New Year I will have some small changes on the Blog, (my New Year’s resolution) but it will evolve only slowly. I want to start giving the recipes not just in Kilos and Liters, but always in Cups as well. I never thought about that before, being a chef, I only work in Grams and Liters, but many people don’t, so it should make it easier for the recipes.

Of course there will be plenty of recipes, but as well travel experiences and, new, some wine stories, as food and wine go hand in hand.

So, what happened here in the West Coast of South Africa? A lot, that’s for sure but here some of the highlights…….

I always liked the lamb here in the West Coast as well known as Swartland Lamb. I know one says that the Karoo (a huge high plateau, quite arid and full of flavorful scrubs and grasses) is the place for the best lamb, but I like to disagree on that point. Yes I had some wonderful lamb from the Karoo but as well some; let’s say rather strong tasting lamb. The Swartland lamb I always like to compare with the highly priced Pré Salé from the French Atlantic coast. Beautiful tasting lambs as the animals eat the grass close to the coast with traces of sea salt on it which makes the meat really nice and flavorful.

So Lamb is big in the West Coast and in a small town called Yzerfontein, 25 km away from where we live, there is every year the traditional Sheep’s Head eating. There is even a club organizing it every year and, wow, it is popular. Taanya, my wife, found out about it last year already and organized us some tickets for this years feast. They serve as well curried offal and fried Snoek, a fish caught locally for the less adventurous, but we were there for the sheep’s head, the real deal. I felt a bit like Andrew Zimmern from the food show “Strange Foods” and yes I was a bit nervous about the whole lot… is a rather strange thing to eat. But it is a long standing pre-Christmas Tradition and Taanya saying it was a great opportunity not to be missed, I said why not!!!! My main worry was of course how would it be cooked, will it be nice and roasted or just plain boiled in water and be all glibberish? Then of course how does one eat a whole head???? We will need some expert advice!!!

Firstly I have to say, the heads were cooked absolutely beautifully, simply wrapped in tin foil and then roasted in the oven in its own juices. The taste was mild, but definitely lamb, just wonderful and I have to agree, unexpected. So I started straight with some meat at the neck, mmmmmm, so juicy, then the tongue, I know not everybody’s favored, then an old fox showed me how to get to the brain. We had sharp knives, like a Swiss army knife and we were cutting and lifting the back of the head, then pulling out the brain…..I know it sounds terrible but it was nice. With the head we had stunning, crusty home baked bread, assorted jams and preserves, all one really needs. Taanya too got stuck in, enjoying it tremendously. She first made sure that she has all the meat from the head, especially the cheeks, before going to the other parts. The cheeks were just melting on the tongue, they were so tender.

I did not think that the head would be so filling, I could hardly finish everything. Yes it is not everybody’s taste, but it was a real experience, not to be forgotten. We had a lovely wine from the region, a Cloof Inkspot which went perfectly well with the meat, we met some lovely people from Pretoria, on holiday in the Cape (they all did not eat the head) but we had wonderful conversation and a great time.

Loads of people just popped in to get some take away, the sheep’s heads were sold out within no time and mountains of food went into the cars of local residents. We had a coffee to finish off a lovely lunch and brought some take away (curried offal) to Taanya’s folks who were looking after the kids as a thank you that we could enjoy lunch “peacefully”. They just loved their take away and will join us next year for the whole event.
As you can see Taanya is very methodical with her sheep's head eating!

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