One such recipe was a Mongol dish that was described by Medieval Chinese food writers, who called it “Grab Your Own Lamb.”
How to Cook Grab Your Own Lamb
The ingredients could not be simpler. A single young lamb, gutted, with the head, wool, hooves, everything, left on.
Some large rocks that would not crack from heat were heated in a hot fire. That is, the rocks were placed in the fire, and kept there until they were literally red hot, glowing with their own heat.
Then the rocks were removed from the fire with tongs, and placed in the cavity of the gutted lamb. The cavity was sewn closed with sturdy twine, and the cooks and guests waited for it to be done.
First, the wool would burn off. I think the smell of burning wool might have been very bad. When all the wool had burned off, from the interior heat, the skin would start to crisp. At some point after this, the lamb would be considered ready.
The meat was so tender that the diners would serve themselves by literally pulling the lamb apart with their hands, and grabbing the pieces they wanted. The Chinese food writers wrote that this lamb was one of the most delicious things you could possibly eat.
I would never try this myself. Heating rocks until they are red hot could be very dangerous, leading to serious injury or worse, or fires if something goes wrong. Even heating the wrong rock could result in an explosion that would send red hot pieces of rock flying in all directions. The Mongol cooks were experts in using this method. I believe those skills have long been lost.
Why Was It So Good?
At the time of the writing, Chinese food was heavily seasoned and spiced, meat was eaten in small quantities, and was often cut into small pieces and stir-fried, lamb was almost never eaten, and the center of most meals was the featured grain, either rice or wheat. The prevailing attitude in China was that only Chinese cooking was worth eating, and all other cuisines were inferior. In other words, “Grab Your Own Lamb” was as un-Chinese a dish as you could possibly find.
So why did the Chinese writers love it so much?
I think it was the bones and the fat, cooked right into the meat.
I am just guessing here, but it is based on my experience in cooking much smaller pieces of meat on the bone, with the fat.
Cooking the lamb whole, with all its bones and fat, meant that substances from the bones and fat would cook right into the meat, helping it become more tender, adding incredible flavor, and greatly increasing the nutritional value of the meat. This provided so much flavor that no spices were needed.
What We Can Learn
I recently made a small roast from a very fatty piece of grassfed meat, which I was able to get with all the fat left on. I barbecued it with no seasoning other than the smoke of the fire. Unbelievably tender and delicious, and we felt so good after eating it. I have had even better results when I could get the fat and the bone.
Cooking meat on the bone, with the fat, provides incredible flavor, tenderness, and nutrition.
This post is part of Fat Tuesday blog carnival.
Photo credit epSos .de