Take One For Tonga
Mutton flaps are killing people in Tonga. Where’s the outrage?
Okay. This is the kind of news story the FLB can get behind. Sure, “news” might be a stretch since the story is almost a year old. However, I’m in desperate need to leave the divisive politics and American social issues behind for a moment. And I also don’t want to think about all the other awful things happening around the world right now.
It’s almost Christmas, so let’s try and bring some joy and good will. This is the perfect post for that, because as it turns out, saving the good people of Tonga is both cheap and delicious.
The first thing we’re going to have to learn how to do is love the mutton flap.
Yeah, I know. That may be hard. Because the thing is called a mutton flap, which has two things going against it. The word “mutton” and the word “flap”. For a hot minute, “flap meat” was a thing for those looking for cheap and delicious cuts of beef. But this thin steak from the bottom sirloin of the steer is not related to the mutton flap.
The mutton flap comes from the delicious belly of the lamb. But since sheep are smaller animals than pigs, this recently besmirched belly cut contains some riblets and ligaments, which can make the meat challenging to work with.
What the mutton flap has in common with the belly meat from other animals is that it’s super fatty. And delicious. In part, that’s the problem for those in Tonga. The BBC reports that it’s about 40% fat by weight.
I’m not entirely sure how people in Tonga can sit down and eat a kilogram of the stuff at a time. But they do.
So here’s the thing. I’ve been buying mutton flap for my family recently. Mostly, it had to do with curiosity. I saw a package of the stuff, and felt the need to try this new-to-me cut of lamb. I was tempted by its low price, but the insight I once received from Burnt My Fingers that sheep cannot be effectively factory farmed, is what ultimately got this product into my shopping cart.
My first instinct was to braise these cuts. So I rubbed them with salt, and tossed them in the crockpot with some onions, coriander seed, and a little bit of liquid.
Man, these threw off a lot of fat.
When they were soft enough to work with, even with all the rendered fat that was left in the crockpot, there was still a lot of solid fat on the meat. So then I went and removed layer after layer of softened fat, extracted the bones, and pulled out the ligaments.
What you are left with is effectively lamb belly confit. That sounds a lot better than mutton flap, no?
Last night, I served some of this up by heating the meat slowly in a cast iron skillet. You don’t need to add any additional fat to the pan, because despite the trimming there is plenty left in the meat. And this process crisps up the meat beautifully. I like to shred the lamb a bit and really maximize the ratio of crispy bits to tender bites.
I served a few ounces of this with a lamb gravy, which I made from the defatted juices from the slow cooker. A little bit of fancy red wine vinegar really elevated the gravy.
The whole thing went over boiled yukon gold potatoes. It was delicious. And despite it feeling like a decadent treat, this was still a much healthier way to eat mutton flap than how they go about it in Tonga.
Now I’m not suggesting that this island nation adopt my cooking techniques. My pitch is for you to start buying mutton flap, so that the demand for this unloved cut of lamb increases. When the demand increases, Tonga will find less mutton flap being dumped into the market, and perhaps the inhabitants can rediscover the joys of local seafood.
Here in the Capital Region, we don’t have local seafood anymore. Those who polluted the Hudson made sure of that. But we do have plenty of local lamb. Don’t forget to look for mutton flap. Just make sure to cook and eat it responsibly. And when you are enjoying those rich savory bites of crispy lamb, feel good about the work you are doing saving the people of Tonga from themselves.