Like a good ol’ Aussie, I have grown up with lamb since childhood, but to this day I have never mastered the art of cooking it. Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch held at Union Dining in Richmond to celebrate Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb from the Southern Riverina – a type of lamb I have heard on many a grapevine recently. And according to the head chef of Union Dining, Nicky Riemer, the key to cooking a cracking lamb is using quality produce.
The Peat family is behind Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb (part of the Three Rivers Speciality Meats Co.), a second-generation family of farmers and butchers who have brought their Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb to market for its first season.
So what exactly makes saltbush lamb so special?
Since this lamb is seasonally focused, it is an autumn only product ( March to May) since the lambs are born very late in the lambing season – August and September. The saltbush plant abounds in regions which absorb salt water through its root system, with some leaves absorbing a concentration of salted water to enable the rest of the plant to access desalted water. Once weaned, the lambs are set loose on the saltbush-laden paddocks over the summer and autumn. The limited season also enables the land and saltbush to regenerate. The lambs are raised on a single estate, known as ‘Bultarra’, a farm which was purchased by the Peats several years ago.
The taste and texture of Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb is also distinct – it has an even fat distribution, making it tender and a really lovely finer texture. Not only do these lambs eat saltbush, but they have access to the Peats’ own home-grown wheat, as well as minerals to ensure balanced nutrition.
Riemer has been one of the very first Melbourne chefs to include Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb on the menu. And she certainly did it justice, with a delicious menu which showcased the lamb beautifully.
We started with drinks on the upper deck with some delicious canapes featuring Three Rivers Saltbush Lamb.
For entree, a lamb shank bastilla was beautifully presented on a bed of smoked eggplant, charred corn, pickled radish and chickpea shoots. The lamb was cooked perfectly and delicately seasoned with a touch of spice.
Moving on to the main, the lamb was definitely the star of the show, elegantly braised with roasted beetroot, white bean ragu and salsa verde. Falling apart with the slightest of fork nudges, the lamb was tender with a delicate fine texture. Finished with a sprinkling of saltbush, the dish had an incredible flavour profile and a pleasing textural contrast. I will definitely be buying some saltbush to cook with at home!
To finish on an even sweeter note, we enjoyed a delicious Earl Grey pannacotta served with fresh fig and rhubarb. Smooth and velvety, the pannacotta had the perfect consistency. The addition of earl grey (one of my favourite teas) provided the dessert with a slightly spicy, savoury flavour to cut through the sweetness. I hope this makes a regular appearance on the menu at Union Dining.
I can’t wait for the next Sunday lamb roast!