Thursday, August 11, 2011

August: Barbecue Season

The barbecue season has been a long time coming in 2011. A wet, cool spring with only a few warm days into June really wasn’t very conducive to backyard dining or cooking. However, with the merciful end to the hockey season in June, we began to experience something more like summer, and since early last month, the smell of grilled food once again wafts across the neighbourhood. Barbecue season: a celebration of local foods, cooked and eaten by gatherings of friends and family… the essence of Slow Food.

The main event in Slow Food Pelham’s summer calendar is a barbecue: the Featherstone Lamb Roast in late August or early September. That’s when our members gather to put on a feast for themselves and guests and anyone else who likes slow cooked lamb on a spit accompanied with all the local bounty our region produces. Featherstone Winery near Vineland uses lambs to thin the grape leaves on their vines, thus exposing the grapes to the sun and insuring faster, more complete ripening for their award winning wines. It also produces succulent, grape leaf-fed lamb. This will mark the fourth year that Slow Food Pelham has worked with Louise Engel and Dave Johnson of Featherstone to provide this tasty feast on the very convivial wrap-around verandah of their winery home.

The key to roasting a whole lamb is the barbecue. It must be big enough to cover the entire spitted lamb and must have a motorized rotisserie to turn the lamb evenly over the coals. Oh, I know a hand-turned rotisserie is more traditional, but I have seen too many instances of meat burned on one side and undercooked on the other because the cook became distracted or was enjoying his rosé too much and didn’t turn the spit consistently. We are very fortunate to have on loan Michael and Anna Olson’s personal barbecue, a magnificent monster converted from an old oil tank. The charcoal is suspended over the bottom of the tank on a steel grid, and the large lid can be pulled over the turning lamb to keep the heat in for quicker and more even cooking. The device is so large that we can cook pans of local potatoes and onions under the turning lamb, basting them with the juice from the lamb as they cook.

Daniel Boudin and I are the designated chefs, and over the three years we have been roasting the lamb, we have developed our technique. We cook the lamb for about 3 ½ hours, regulating the temperature by adding or spreading the charcoal underneath it, and testing with an instant-read thermometer at frequent intervals. During cooking, we baste with olive oil that has several garlic cubes submerged in it, and use a brush made of rosemary twigs to do the basting. When we prepare the lamb, we stuff it with rosemary and garlic cloves before sewing it up and inserting the spit. The potatoes go on about 2 hours before serving and are nicely crisped and brown on the outside but still light and fluffy on the inside if we get it just right. The lamb is carved at the table, and served with the onions and potatoes, salads, vegetables, home-made desserts prepared by other members of our little group, cheeses from Chez Fromage Etc. (now in Fonthill), and, of course, Featherstone wines. It is a wonderful celebration of summer and of the barbecue.

This year’s Pelham Slow Food barbecue at Featherstone Winery is September 10. Contact the President of Slow Food Pelham, Renée Girard at if you are interested in attending… but seats are very limited, as we try to keep the event as intimate and convivial as possible.

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