Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


You say vegivore, I say tunatarian

In the beginning was the lamb, and it was good. Also the chicken. I didn’t know that I was part of a trend until someone asked me if I was a locavore. I had to think about that. I do consider myself a carnivore (i.e., someone who eats meat) but when someone asks “are you a vegetarian?” I usually reply “no, I’m an omnivore” meaning that I eat just about anything. (And why isn’t it vegivore or omnitarian? Cue the Howard Richler column, please).

Locavore is the buzzword for someone who eats food grown locally. If you spend more time shopping at the Atwater or Jean-Talon Markets than you do at Loblaws or Metro, you may qualify as a locavore. Of course, it’s hard to be a locavore and a tunatarian or a pescivore (which is what I call someone who chews fish but eschews meat) since most locally caught fish would be from the St. Lawrence.

It turns out that I’ve been a trendy food eater for years, but I didn’t know it. It started with Phil. He’s a friend who lives about 60 kilometres from Montreal. He farms, sells antiques, and keeps lambs and chickens. His lambs are raised in fields or on hay, depending on the season. Over the years I’ve learned to distinguish the autumn cull, which have an herbal flavour after spending a summer in the meadows, from the more earthy spring lambs wintering on hay.

When they are about a year old – past lambhood but not yet mature or gamey enough to be called mutton – Phil trucks them to market. The routine that follows is always the same: a rushed phone call that the lambs are ready and a scramble among friends to see who would like one since I have to drive anyway. Finally, a trip over the Ontario border to Phil’s butcher in L’Orignal or to the farm if I don’t get to the butcher in time. In that case, Phil keeps it frozen and I return home with “lamb in a box.” When I visit the farm in the off season I make it a point not to get friendly with the animals. I don’t want to know my dinner’s name.

I’ve learned a lot from eating Phil’s lambs. I’ve watched a whole lamb get divided into meals and worked with the butcher to cut it the way I like. I’ve learned to savour both the tough but tasty shoulder chops and succulent tender ribs. Chunks are bagged for brochettes. Leftover bits get ground. Bones are set aside for the seder table. I used to keep everything – until I opened the freezer a while ago and found a half dozen heads looking back. I had kept them for years thinking that eventually I would make a Greek lemon soup I once had at Meracles, a steam table restaurant on Park Ave. Now both it and the heads are gone.

I’m also learning that each part of the animal yields its own bounty. I never knew what to do with the shanks, the tough narrow part of the legs. Recently, I found shanks served as a $20+ special in some of our better bistros. Why not make this incredibly flavourful slow cooking dish at home?

Here’s a version from The Good Cook series: Take 4 lamb shanks and 20 unpeeled garlic cloves. Brown the shanks with a little olive oil in a pot just big enough to hold them. The pot needs a thick base and a tight-fitting lid. A Dutch oven is great. Add the garlic cloves and cook everything slowly, over the lowest heat possible. Cover the pot and turn the lamb occasionally. It cooks in its own juices. After an hour or two (the longer the better) the liquid evaporates and the lamb sizzles in its own fat. Add some salt, pepper and a dusting of dried herbs such as marjoram, thyme, or oregano. Add a little water. Cook another hour or so. When the meat is falling off the bones, remove it to a platter and scrape the caramelized bits from the pan as you stir in some dry white wine. Pour the liquid through a strainer. Force the garlic through the strainer into the liquid. Skim fat from the sauce and reduce the liquid in a small pan until it thickens. Pour the sauce back into the pot, stir in the shanks, and reheat. Add a squeeze of orange or lemon and chopped fresh parsley just before serving.

This meal goes great with garlic toast, good wine and winter. Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at



Post a Comment