Friday, November 03, 2006

Lamb tails

Spring: bright yellow daffodils, the fragrance of blooming daphnes, lambs gamboling in verdant fields... The acrid stench of wool burning on a rickety barbecue appears as welcome on that list as a knife-fight in church. However, spring is the time when the cooking of lamb tails occurs and not having had them in ages, it seemed the perfect excuse to give them a go. Fortunately for me, a workmate (many thanks, Joe!) had just finished a week docking lambs. A dozen beer later, the supermarket bag of tails I requested turned up having changed into a very large fertiliser sack full of the things - time to get to work (just a quick note - click on the photos if you want a closer look - if you dare!).


First, some background: lamb tails vary from 20 to 30 cm in length and 4 to 6 cm in width (before grilling). They're removed to prevent the build up of faecal matter around the lamb's backside. Left intact, the mess attracts flies which lay eggs, resulting in maggots which can cause pain as they eat the lamb's flesh.

Once removed, the tails are kept aside until the end of the working day, whereupon they were either cooked on the spot or divided up amongst those docking to be taken home. Given the large number of tails that eventuate, it is fortunate that they lend themselves to freezing.

The tail isn't particularly meaty (in the same way that a petrol station mince pie isn't particularly meaty, although for slightly different reasons). Fortunately, this is compensated for by the sheer number of tails foisted upon you at a grilling. The tails are grilled until the wool is burnt off and the meat cooked; to eat, the blackened skin is removed revealing flesh which is gnawed off the thin tail bone. The taste is slight, but is enhanced by salt; growing up in a rural area, every lamb tail session seemed to be accompanied by the obligatory ice cream container chock full of salt, speckled with the ash from dipped tails.

On to the cooking: having bought a bag of charcoal, I went to find my old barbecue, not having used it since the previous summer. Imagine my surprise at discovering the three legs of my trusty Weber had fallen off because of rust, turning our barbecue into a glorified metallic garden feature. No matter; one cinder block later, it was good to go!

With the fire burning steadily, it was time to add the tails. At this point, the wind picked up and decided to shift from blowing in the direction of the empty miles of farmland next door, moving instead towards the houses across the road. Delivering billowing clouds of foul-smelling smoke to your neighbors is never desirable; spare a thought for them (and anything hanging on the clothesline) before embarking on this sort of project. The wind suddenly dropped - on went the tails!

There's a lot of smoke, accompanied by what closely resembles the sound of a thousand blowflies reacting excitedly to the prospect of a troop of horses trotting through town - this is the moisture in the wool reacting to the heat. The smell of burning wool is quite strong but the wind dealt to that rather quickly. Burnt wool makes a frightful mess of your grill, too - I wouldn't recommend grilling tails on your fancy-schmancy, twenty-burner, platinum-coated gas barbecue nonsense.



The tails were nearly done, both sides charred beyond belief. It was time to drag out the condiments: salt and (rather fancy for such rustic fare) soy sauce.

















Eating tails is somewhat like eating ribs, without the benefit of being able to lick your fingers (or indeed anyone else's), covered as they are in black, gritty ash. With the coals still glowing red, we plucked a tail each off the grill - hot hot hot! - and proceeded to rip the skin off. My brother possessed the wit to realise that the tongs would allow him to both hold the tail and retain his fingerprints.


















So how did they taste? Ok. The flavour was subtle, faintly lamb-like, not to mention quite smoky. The salt certainly helped; the soy sauce turned out to be the perfect accompaniment. Some of the tails were surprisingly fatty. The thick, meaty tails were obviously a little more flavoursome while the thin ones were bony and not worth bothering with. Eating lamb tails as I remember from my youth was a largely social activity; standing with a tail in one hand and a beer in the other, gossiping about the activities of the town. The hands-on experience of eating such fiddly food was quite jolly. I haven't had tails in years and cooking them myself was a lot of fun (growing up, the job was left to older, larger, gumbooted cousins).

And there we have it! Lamb tails - my first major post. Time to research my next one...

PS. While the tails were enjoyable, we were still peckish:

Dessert.

UPDATE: Rangi sent me a link to a recipe on the Kai Time website. I give you: Lamb Tail Curry Soup with Fried Mountain Oysters


23 comments:

Barbara said...

Brilliant post Nigel. I honestly don't think I could eat lambs tails any more than I could eat chickens feets. Welcome to blogging. Nice to have the NZ food/wine blogging growing.

Nigel said...

Yee gods, I haven't had chickens feet in years! The last time I had them would have been at yum cha - considering what the average chook wanders through, well, it doesn't bear thinking about really! Thanks for the support, Barbara.

Nigel said...

..and by 'yee', I mean 'ye'...

ChrisB said...

I dropped by on Barbara's recommendation I enjoyed the post but don't think I could eat lambs tails. I am now curious and will be adding you to my blog list as although I don't write a food blog I do enjoy reading them and picking up recipe ideas.

Nigel said...

Thank you, Chris - it's my pleasure. I'll be posting recipes too as part of my experiment - stay tuned!

Beccy said...

Interesting post but I really don't think I could eat lambs tails!

Nigel said...

Keep popping back - I'm sure I'll have something a little more palatable for you soon!

Tim said...

Welcome to blog world - I am guessing we started blogging about the same day. Lambs tails are probably not for me! But good on you for posting it!

Nigel said...

Thank you, Tim. As for your gnocchi & chorizo - perfect!

Tim said...

Nigel If you make good on your offer to compost your lambs tails (photographic evidence required) I will send you gnocchi and chorizo by couier post! But I will hang onto the Cloudy Bay Tekoko I match it with! Thanks for your comments and all the best in blogland!

Bronwyn said...

Totally F.A.B to have another Kiwi onboard food blogging.
I've had lambs tails once before, I think? As a nipper many years ago at one of my parents friends bbqs.
I've certainly seen and smelt it anyway! But.. I do think I'd prefer a little more meat and a little less wool normally.
Looking forward to what you'll be serving us next!!

Anonymous said...

Never in my life have I heard of eating lamb tails. Never! I can't decide whether it's something I'd want to try, lol. The last photo of the cooked tails does look tasty though.

Ari (Baking and Books)

Arfi Binsted said...

i haven't eaten any tails myself hehehe... but as a part of a cuisine, i think there's an oxtail soup or stew somewhat in traditional Indonesian style. well, the world is rich enough to explore any kind of what nature provides, isn't it?

Nigel said...

Bronwyn,
Thanks very much - wholeheartedly agree with your meat/wool ratio!

Ari,
Try it at least once, if only to secure yourself bragging rights!

Arfi,
Absolutely agree. Exploring food practices grants insight and increases awareness, not to mention all that access to good food!

Steven Burda said...

Delicious!!!

Steven Burda, MBA

Temple University, BBA, 2003

St. Joseph's University, MBA, 2006

Villanova University, Post-MBA, 2007

Philadelphia, PA

www.linkedin.com/in/burda

e-mail: steven.burda.mba @gmail.com

Nigel said...

Steven, you're in a minority ;) Cheers!

Sonya said...

OMG, thank you for the pics and recipe. I grew up on lamb tails and miss them like crazy so luckily I've managed to talk my husband into cooking me some on his barbeque (don't need to show him what cooking these can do to the bbq aye). Anyway, thank you so much, just need to find the lamb tails now.

Nigel said...

Sonya! No worries - good luck with your hunt & come back again :-)

katho said...

one word tumbler a cage like device with a huge handle welded at one end to turn the tumbler over a open fire(bon fire) place tails in and turn...empty tumbler peel salt and eat. it wont ruin your bbq and instead of cooking 10 at a time try 100. get a few mates and some cold beers by the fire wat else can u ask 4.

Nigel Olsen said...

Katho, do you have any photos? If so, could I see some of the tumbler? I'm really keen to see its construction. Email to curious dot kai at gmail dot com. Cheers!

Coasty Gurl said...

Lamb tails..oohh what a delicacy..used to eat them while farming at Tuai..Lake Waikaremoana...with a beer and lemon juice & well salted..beeuuatifull...another way was to boil the tails to remove wool..then chop up and make into a curry..eat the whole tail as the bone softens and becomes part of the meal...but hard to beat were the mountain oysters fried up in a pan on open fire in butter with onions...reka reka reka...enjoy
Coasty Gurl now living in Queensland...

Karl Teariki said...

as a kid i used to love eating them bones and all... deeeeelicious.. and totally a seasonal delivacy to many maori living in the country.. My grandmother used to blanche them in a big pot of boiling water and peel the skin off them when they cooled, and make the most delicious vege lambtail stew from them cooking them long and slow enough on her fire stove so that the bones would just crumble with every spoonful... mmmm ..

Nigel Olsen said...

Karl - Your nan's method of cooking makes a lot of sense - it's more efficient, not to mention flavoursome. I'm keeping that in mind for next season: blanch, then stew or a braise.

CG - Curry! That would never have occurred to me either. I feel suitably inspired now!