In cooking, as in other aspects of life, the most elegant solution is often the simplest. Whether this method of roasting a leg of lamb is the simplest, who can tell. What is clear is that roasting meat hanging from a string is an ancient technique. The simplest ideas also tend to be the oldest. The french à la ficelle – the string – refers to several cooking techniques, the frugal practice of hanging meat on a string to spin and slowly roast in front of the hearth fire is one.
South Africa isn’t as cold as France, the need for a house warming fire isn’t as great, but what we do have is plenty of sunshine. What would it take to bring this particular brand of French cuisine to a sunny South African backyard? Enter Wheelbarrow Lamb, or as Justin Bonello calls it, the Tarzan Roast.
What You Will Need
- Leg of Lamb – Try and get it with the shoulder attached and without cutting the tendons and bones.
- Rock Salt
- Olive Oil
- Plenty of wood – The wood will affect the flavour of the meat so try use fruit tree wood
- A wheelbarrow – While not strictly necessary, it is often the closest thing to hand.
- Pan for drippings
- Your Mungo man cloth or the Mungo Workmans Apron
The one ingredient you will need plenty of, is time. A good sunny day with sport on tv, or a book to read, or a partner to chew the cud with. However you chose to do it, from personal experience we can recommend doing it with a drink at hand. You will need about six hours cooking time depending on the size of your roast. So stock the fridge accordingly.
We made our fire in an old wheelbarrow we had handy, but you could make the fire on the ground or even in a Weber. Find a suitable tree branch hanging over a bare patch of lawn, or somewhere you don’t mind the grass getting a bit burnt. However you choose to hang your meat and however you decide to make your fire, the more adjustable your setup the better. There will come a time when you want to cook a particular spot and you will need to be able to raise or lower the meat or move the fire. You should also make allowance for a dripping tray below your meat. With your position chosen, get your fire started.
Prepare the lamb. We crushed garlic, rosemary, olive oil and salt together and stuffed the resulting potent cocktail of deliciousness into centimetre deep cuts over the entire leg. We also rubbed a goodly amount over the whole thing. You could use any herbs and spices you think would best complement your meat. Get a wire loop securely through the pointy end and return to fire. Don’t forget your drink.
Hang the meat next to the fire and commence cooking.
The meat cooks slowly from radiating heat. So watch the wind, turn the roast, adjust the fire, keep at it. It’s a relaxing way to cook once you get the hang of positioning the roast. We spent the day reading books, enjoying the view of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, taking cooling dips in the dam and having a beer or two.
Later, joined by some friends, we served up the most delicious lamb any of us have ever tasted. We made a selection of salsas, salads and sauces and served our lamb in pitas stuffed to the brim.