4 Aug

A star-kissed, slow-cooked lamb

During its 2010 run, I had more than a few laughs watching Victoria Thaine as Janie Spanner in her online MasterChef Reject series. The low-budget production dished up the whole reality TV drama by cramming it into a daggy home kitchen, with Janie’s boyfriend as a flamboyantly sadistic co-host and judge. And really, who doesn’t like a good Aussie piss-take? Shame that the website is no longer around, but there are still some MasterChef Reject videos on YouTube, including this one of Janie’s First Challenge.

So it came as a nice surprise to discover that Victoria – in addition to acting appearances on such TV shows as Rake, Wilfred and All Saints ­– is actually quite ingrained into Melbourne’s food scene. When she’s not labouring on her current short film project, she can be seen working the markets at her brother Daniel’s Sausologist stand at various markets, including the Caulfield and Preston farmers’ markets. And, as it turns out, she’s also a pretty stellar home cook.

I first got in touch with Victoria while researching the Sausologist some moons ago (mmm, Ethiopian lamb and Argentinean pork snags), and at some point our banter got around to my plans for The Melting Pot.  Her Aussie upbringing didn’t lend itself to any exotic cultural home-cooked dish, Victoria said, but she had a keen interest in cooking whole joints of meat. That’s pretty Australian, I reckon, and well-represented at the homes of patient home cooks and at some of our finer restaurants, like Melbourne’s Cumulus, which makes an excellent whole slow-roasted lamb shoulder for two.

So I’m honoured to have Victoria do a video for us showing how to slow-cook her Moroccan-style whole hogget. Hogget, for those who don’t know, is what a lamb becomes once its first two adult teeth start to show (yes, I Googled it). In terms of age, it’s usually between 1-2 years old, at which point more teeth come in and it becomes mutton. Hogget, then is still a relatively young, beautiful piece of meat, and with lamb prices going through the roof, it’s a smart choice for a killer home roast that’s kinder to budget.

Yes, hogget might sound like a vertically challenged Lord of the Rings character, or some Harry Potter B-list school. In which case, maybe just fob it off on your dinner guests as uber-expensive lamb, and soak up the accolades for slow-cooking it a dozen hours to complete brilliance. – Michael Shafran

Slow-cooked hogget shoulder with broad bean salad, tahini yoghurt & pita
Recipe by Victoria Thaine

“I was born in Australia. My parents are English. There are many other Australians who come from more colourful culinary backgrounds, but what I love about being a cook in Australia is that its cuisine is defined by the influence of so many different cultures. Look at the way a grain like couscous has permeated our lives, starting from an unfamiliar North African grain to becoming a ubiquitous menu item in inner-city cafes. I feel privileged to have access to so many different ingredients, and to constantly learn about new cuisines and techniques.

“This recipe borrows from many different places and is my favourite way to cook – bung something in the oven and leave it there all day. It’s hardly any work, it’s very hard to get it wrong, and it’s really simple.

“You can make this with either a lamb or a hogget shoulder. If you’re in Melbourne, I highly recommend looking up Little Creek Cattle. Their meat is amazing, and they regularly sell hogget shoulder. Hogget is what lamb is called once it reaches 1-2 years of age. It has a slightly stronger taste, and it works beautifully in this recipe. But lamb shoulder is also fine – make sure you get it with the bone in. What you see in the video is a whole lamb shoulder, but you can also ask your butcher to give you a half shoulder, or trim it to make it look a bit prettier than mine does!

“In Morocco, they use a fermented butter called smen to coat their meat. I learnt a trick of Christine Manfield – using a mix of blue cheese and butter will give you a similar flavour. Trust me, it’s good!

“Also, I highly recommend making your own pita bread. I haven’t put the recipe here, but just look one up on the internet. It’s so, so, easy, and given you don’t have much to do once the shoulder’s in the oven, there’s no excuse!”

Slow-cooked hogget shoulder with broad bean salad, tahini yoghurt & pita
(serves 4 with leftovers)

I have been known on a number of occasions to put the meat in the oven then go to work. There’s always a slight, nervous feeling of anticipation when I get home and check it (it’s usually been in for about 10 hours), but I’m always pleasantly surprised!

2-3kg shoulder of lamb or hogget

50g strong blue cheese
70g butter
A tablespoon of ground cumin, or cinnamon or ras el hanout
Garlic cloves, if you wish

1) Preheat the oven to 120C. Put the shoulder in a roasting pan and make some slits in the meat so you can really get the butter and blue cheese all over the meat.

2) Melt the butter and blue cheese together, add the chosen spices, then massage into the shoulder. Pour 1/2 cup (125ml) of water in the roasting pan and cover with foil. Place in the oven and roast for 10 to 12 hours, taking the foil off in the last half hour and increasing the temperature to 220C to crisp the fat.

3) It’s ready when the meat has pulled away completely from the bone and it eases away without using a hint of force. It’s always good to rest meat, but if you’re like me and always running behind schedule, I usually throw it on the table straight away and no-one complains!

Broad bean salad
(serves 4)

500g frozen broad beans (you can use fresh if you like, but the frozen ones are fine)
2 lebanese cucumbers
A bunch of mint
1 red onion
Apple cider vinegar, for dressing
Extra-virgin olive oil, for dressing

1) Place enough water to cover the broadbeans into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the broad beans, and boil for around 4 minutes.

2) Drain, refresh with cold water and then peel the outer skin. (This can take a while, but just zone out and daydream It’s very therapeutic!)

3) Slice cucumbers and onion finely and roughly chop the mint. Toss all the ingredients in a bowl with a simple dressing of apple cider vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil and season to taste.

Tahini yoghurt 

2 cups plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons tahini (preferably hulled)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1) Whisk the tahini into the yoghurt until smooth, and then add the lemon juice and olive oil. Add the minced garlic and season to taste.

How to put it all together!

I keep my pita breads warm in a tea towel and serve everything family-style at the table.

Grab a pita bread and smooth tahini yoghurt over it. Pull off some tender meat, and then finish off with some salad. Roll it up and eat!