Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meat the Sheep

It's really a bit ridiculous that I haven't introduced you to our lovely dorper sheep before now, given that we live on a sheep station! We mustered these guys on the weekend and, due to some nice rain and a flooding river back in May, they are in very good condition….in fact they are mud fat!

As I've mentioned previously, because of wild dogs and drought we do not have many sheep left on the property- only about four hundred ewes plus lambs. In a 'normal' season and before dogs arrived we could carry up to 6000 sheep. All that we have left are in one paddock, behind ringlock fencing which, if not completely dog proof, is relatively safe.

Our youngest son, Henry, was home for the weekend with his girlfriend, as was  our 'adopted' son (ex jackeroo) Dash. Combined with Tom, our eldest, and me on motorbikes, with Rossco (hubby) flying the plane, we had a great crew and a perfect opportunity to blow some cobwebs out of the bikes and enjoy riding around the bush.

This photo was taken last year, in drought conditions, but
it gives you an idea of what mustering looks like. The 
high vis jackets are necessary for the pilot to more easily
see the motorbike rider from the air. 
I rode home a little early, in time to make a quadruple batch of honey bread for smoko, as is our tradition during mustering. Rossco's brother and his family joined us for smoko and, even though we had a very early start and sore backsides from being on the bike for four hours,  it was a great day.

We really miss mustering and other sheep work but unfortunately, until the wild dog situation is under control, it is not economic to run them. You don't need a lot of dogs to do a lot of damage with sheep!

Me - mustering sheep
We reckon the meat we produce is some of the tastiest you can get anywhere. There are a few reasons for this: the sheep's diet is very varied; they have to walk a fair distance to reach both food and water and therefore develop good muscle tone; there are no chemicals used on the land; they are not put in feedlots and, for our own use, the sheep are killed in a relatively stress free environment at home and then hung in the cool room for a couple of weeks, as opposed to going to the abattoir and being butchered soon after being killed. In this we are very fortunate.

I'd say that as a family our favourite cut of sheep meat is chops. In 2012 my sister-in-law Pam and I were given special tickets, by our brother husbands, to see Heston Blumenthal live-with front row seats and an introduction to Heston after the show. I decided to take him a present….some home-grown chops! I carefully wrapped six frozen chops in several  layers of  newspaper and squeezed them into my handbag, where they stayed beautifully frozen until I passed them over to Heston's assistant. I stupidly omitted to include any contact details on the package so have no idea whether or not Heston ever ate them or what he thought of them. They probably thought I was some crazy woman and binned them! I hope not. Admittedly, Heston does not exactly look overwhelmed by our company.
Pam (right) and me with Heston Blumenthal in Perth 
Relish Chops/Ribs

When I first came here as a 17 year old, to work for my future mother-in-law (MIL), I was introduced to the famous-in-these-parts relish chops. Basically it is however many chops or ribs you need, laid in a baking tray (covered with baking paper) and doused with tomato relish mixed with a little bit of water, then baked in a slow-moderate oven for about 2 hours. I cover them with foil for the first hour or so. The relish caramelises a bit -which is why you need to line the tray with baking paper, otherwise cleaning it is a pain!- and the chops get very soft and tender and absolutely delicious. Because of the slow cooking time you should use hogget or mutton chops or ribs- in fact, apart from the high cost if you have to buy them, lamb chops would not stand up well to this type of cooking and I would not recommend using them. You could also use pork chops or ribs.
I use homemade tomato relish- for which my MIL is famous and I therefore do not feel at liberty to share the recipe- but any tomato chutney or relish is fine.  I leave the fat on the meat for cooking- it renders down and is easy to drain it off when the chops come out of the oven.
Relish Chops, ready to bake.
Feel free to post a comment if you have any questions on this recipe. Maybe you have a fabulous tomato relish recipe that you'd like to share - and feel at liberty to do so!!

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