Read how a Lamb turned in to a Goat
In early October I had one of the most memorable journys to China to date - where I saw a lamb turn into a goat - and then from a Goat to a Lamb!
Either myself or our lead product designer Tony Teboneras travel over to China regularly to perform our quality control checks and review our newest products.
This trip I decided that it would be a great opportunity to cook for our workers on our newest spit rotisseries as it would be educational for the staff and give the new spit a really good workout!
Step 1. What do you want to cook
I brought the idea up with our Chinese Managing Director and asked him what he thought would be a good meat to cook. In my mind i was cooking a couple of roasts. Easy right!?... We went through some images from my phone to give him some ideas.. Roasts, Leg of Lamb, Chicken.. and of course an image of a whole lamb on a spit. After much 'discussion', they decided that they wanted to cook a whole lamb! How on earth are we going to find a whole lamb at the local corner store I'm thinking to myself. We're in a rural town about 450kms inland from Shanghai and unlike in Australia, they don't have butchers. Fortunately one of our workers said he knew someone who lived in the mountains and farmed lambs so we could buy from him. Fantastic.. this was going to be easy again....
Step 2. Choosing your Lamb (It's a little different to how we do it in Australia)
Step 2. Choosing your Lamb (It's a little different to how we do it in Australia)
I immediatly started to panic!
I've only ever purchased deceased, clean lambs from the local butcher in Melbourne, never one directly from a farm where I get to choose my own lamb and clean it myself. Did I forget to mention that I am a former vegetarian? Obviously running a spit roasting company this is no longer the case, but I was a pretty hard core vegetarian / borderline vegan for about 3 years so this was pretty daunting for me.
Anyway, the next morning we drove to a beautiful farm in the mountainside. Along tiny windy dirt tracks, down steep hills with a massive drop down both sides....thank goodness the drivers in China are better than the Chinese drivers in Australia!
We eventually reach our destination and I couldn't believe what I saw. A huge lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop and fresh air (which is rare for China). Ahead I saw a rustic looking bridge less than 1m wide passing over the lake leading through the mountain. Thankfully I was prepared and traded the high heels for flats.
After walking a few minutes along the river and up the mountain, we came to the area where they keep the lambs....Up on seeing the 'lambs' i immediatly started to question whether Chinese lambs could be so different to 'Australian' lambs... to the point where they had horns!
I was told to pick one which was pretty difficult as I had no idea how big it should be. Of course I know I normally buy a 17kg lamb from the butcher, I had no idea how much to extract the innards, head, fur etc. to end up with something weighing around 17kgs
I chose one that I thought looked about right and 2 guys caught the 'lamb' and dragged it out kicking and screaming.
At that point I started to cry!
Even now as I'm writing I shed a tear and I remember the distressed animal. Isn't it funny how we all eat meat but disassociate ourselves from where the meat came from. I had to walk away back to the car and wait until it was all over. The 'lamb' was loaded into the boot of the car and after handing over the equivalent of $300 Australian dollars we were on our way. I was stunned that it weighed 34kgs! My chinese collegue said to me "well they knew we were coming" and then proceeded to inform me that the 'lamb' had been given a drink.. a lot of drink.. and some food.. a lot of food.. They were all fattened up the day before to get as much bang for their buck. Well I thought at least the rest of the heard got a great feed - and lived another day. As you'll see a bit further down, it was quite small once it was cleaned.
Step 3. - Preparing the Meat
When we returned to the factory, everyone was interested in seeing the animal. I left a couple of the workers to remove the skin, head, feet and innards while I went on a mission to try to find the herbs and spices I needed. While I couldn't find a few rosemary or oregano, I managed to find salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, chilli, fresh onions and garlic.
By the time I returned to the factory, the animal was all clean and ready to be marinated. The only Eglish speaking person in the whole factory had to take a phone call so I was left to fend for myself to communicate with a sudden over supply of eager Chinese staff to 'help' me.. with no translater. I pulled out all my spices and found myself surrounded by about a 8 workers all intrigued on what I was doing. I began smearing the goat with copious amounts of spices when a couple of them started jumping in to help. Those that weren't helping were taking lots of pictures with their phones. I'm not sure how I managed to communicate, but I somehow had everything marinaded and skewered up within about 5 minutes. It’s amazing what an extra 8 pairs of hands do! I passed a knife and onions and garlic to one to clean, another one was squeezing lemons into a cup to be used for basting, another few were grabbing the skewer, prongs etc. needed to secure the lamb, someone else was looking for a basting brush (we had to make do with a clean paintbrush) another couple were attending to the charcoal and someone else used wire to sew up the stomach cavity. Despite the situation of not being able to speak the same language, it was probably the easiest spit I've ever had to prepare, and the most enjoyable!
Find the Chinese 'Lamb' receipe here
Step 4. - Cooking
Two guys lifted the skewer an attached it onto the spit. Now the meat was spinning over the charcoal, everyone was eager to throw more charcoal onto the fire. The fire became far too hot so we raised the skewer as far away from the fire it could go and I gestured to everyone to stop adding more charcoal. Thankfully by this time the Managing Director / Translator had finished from his call and I was able to teach him the 8 second rule. Before I knew it, everyone wanted to put their hand over the charcoal to see how long their hand could withstand the heat of the charcoal....most only lasted 3 seconds. Because the 'lamb' was getting too hot, it was important to baste the meat regularly with a mixture of lemon juice, salt and olive oil. As a side note, can you believe that I paid the equivalent of $14 AUD for olive oil and $1 for each lemon at the supermarket!
For basting, we only had small plastic cups and a paint brush so that would have to do. Ordinarily I would use some sprigs of rosemary, however finding rosemary proved impossible
For the next couple of hours while the goat cooked, I could see from my office that people kept walking past, putting out their hand to test the 8 second rule, add more charcoal if needed, baste the animal and of course take more photos to share on the equivalent of Chinese Facebook. It was quite satisfying to see how interested they were to learn and how involved they wanted to be. I knew it was a success when workers from nearby factories came in to check out what was happening and our workers were showing them how it all worked with the 8 second rule, basting etc. I was like a proud parent.
Step 5 - EAT
We had planned to have dinner at around 5pm, so from about 4:15pm I pulled out a stubby holder (which has cooking temperatures on the back) and cooking thermometer to start testing the internal temperature. Again without speaking English, I managed to communicate how to determine whether the meat was ready by comparing the reading on the cooking thermometer with the temperature specified on the stubby holder. For a goat/lamb , the optimum temperature is 75 degrees in the fleshiest part of the meat.
At 5pm the 'lamb' was ready so we raised it all the way up, added a grill to the spit roaster and started barbecuing chicken wings, mushrooms and squid over the charcoal. I wanted to remove the meat so we could start carving, however they wouldn't let me as more people from another nearby factory wanted to come and see! Highly regarded businessmen from another factory such as CEOs, general managers, CFOs etc. came to see and they too were pulling out their mobile phones to take photos/videos. Even one of the biggest local employers in the area came to see it. Funny how a simple spit roast was able to draw in all the big wigs!
Finally at around 5:30 I started carving up the 'lamb' and everyone started digging in. There were around 40-50 people (of which only 13 were from our factory) all standing around picking bits and pieces off. One thing I learnt and didn't realise is that Chinese like all their BBQ meat cooked very well done without any pink. Some fleshy parts of the goat were still a bit pink so we skewered them and put them back on the BBQ. Beers were cracked open and our stubby holders were put to good use.
I received a lot of thumbs up and "very good". If you'd like the recipe, click here. After all the "ring ins" left and only the employees from our factory were left, we toasted our glasses, took photos together as a team and then many of them wanted to have their photo taken with me. During my first trip to China 3 years ago, I thought it was weird that the locals wanted their picture taken with me, but being a foreigner in a place where foreigners are non-existent, you get used to being starred at where ever you go!
We sat around drinking, eating, talking and laughing for the remainder of the evening and I was quietly thinking "I hope they're going to be able to work tomorrow as I need my spit roasters ready before next week!". All in all, it was a great day and I feel very privileged to have been able to bring something different into their usually monotonous day. I am proud to be involved with a factory where people aren't treated like "battery hens" or how most Australians imagine the typical Chinese factory conditions. They have a 2 hour meal/sleep break from 11:30-1:30 each day, work a 40 hour week and get paid more than average wage by Chinese standards. There are smiles on faces, plenty of laughter and you can clearly see the western influence in the company culture.
The next day they wanted to cook for me to show their appreciation so they turned the left over goat into "lamb noodle soup". It was delicious....but I didn't have the heart to tell them it was goat not lamb!