September 22, 2014
Amuse-Bouche
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carpaccio d’agneau
(raw, sliced lamb)
Lisa has some very tasty loins. Perhaps I should explain? Lisa is a ewe, but that in itself doesn’t explain everything.
As I previously wrote, I periodically purchase a lamb from a rancher an hour south of where I live. He slaughters and dresses the lamb early in the morning. I pickup the carcass within a few minutes of him finishing, and then drive it to the school where I teach the occasional knife skills and butchery class. The carcass is chilled in the school’s walk‑in refrigerator. Two or three days later, I teach the culinary students some basic butchery.
Although the school’s chef‑instructor claims the students name the lamb, I know that it’s really him being creative. In life, Lisa had no name, not even an ear tag with a number. In death, her name will live on as long as her meat stays in my freezer (and this article remains online).
When teaching butchery, I want the students to have as much hands‑on time as possible. To make it possible, I first divide the lamb carcass into its sections so each student can work on a chunk at a safe distance from other students. In Lisa’s case, her forelegs and shoulders were separated from her thoracic cavity between her fourth and fifth ribs. The freed piece was handed off to a student to separate her neck from her shoulders. Once he completed that, the shoulders were separated with a cleaver and each one given to a student to begin separating the shanks from the upper arms without bisecting the calf muscles. The first student continued to debone the neck. The hips were separated from the lumbar region at the top of the sacrum, and they were split into two legs with a cleaver. These also were given to students to remove the shanks without cutting the calf muscle. That left two students to work on the remaining partial carcass.
There are two muscles that run the full length of the spine on either side of the dorsal process. They are the longissimus muscles. The longissimus is the muscle that forms the point of interest in a rack of lamb or rib chops. It’s the ribeye and the sirloin on a steer. It is commonly referred to as the loin on a pig. I normally try to harvest each muscle in a single, long piece. Each side will produce about ten servings, and is absolutely delightful when cooked to 55 °C (131 °F). It’s a precious piece of meat.
I started the students on their way to harvest this expensive pair of muscles, and went off to answer questions for others in the class. That was a mistake. By the time I returned to their table, one of the students working on the back had managed to remove one of the muscles, or most of it, but not as instructed. About a fourth of it was still longitudinally attached to the spine. I was mortified. I scraped the remaining muscle off the carcass. It had a beautiful, deep‑red color so I decided to sample my first bit of Lisa. She may have been disfigured by then, but she tasted perfect. This particular muscle on this particular animal was even better than the abductor muscle that I use for tartare d’agneau (lamb tartar). I salvaged what I could from the loin to use in its customary form. The remaining, mutilated meat was wrapped and set aside to deal with later.
On my drive home, I decided to fashion the mangled muscle into carpaccio. Carpaccio was “in” in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s. It always seemed like an excuse to serve a little bit of beef for a big bit of money. I noticed at the time that many of the people ordering it did so more out of a spirit of adventure than a love of raw meat. The way it was prepared, pounded thin and doused with olive oil and seasonings, it was difficult to taste the raw meat.
For my Lisa carpaccio, I sliced the damaged loin muscle very thin with a single stroke of a long knife. The slices were arranged more‑or‑less in a single layer on a small plate. The meat was then refrigerated for a couple of hours. At service, a light sprinkling of fine salt was applied. That’s it. With good meat, that’s all you need.
(For the picture, I played with various ingredients to use as a garnish. The shredded basil and red peppercorns turned out to be the most photogenic.)

© 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.