Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Sumac, Garlic & Coriander Lamb

(Skip to the end for the recipe)

Being invited to review Abel & Cole organic meat deliveries

When Abel & Cole's PR contacted me about reviewing their products several weeks ago, I mentioned that I would be much more interested in reviewing their organic meat than the fruit and vegetables.

We'd trialled a Well Thrifty Box from the Well Hung Meat Company some weeks previously (which I really ought to summarise in a separate blog post at some point) and have been investigating other suppliers too. Ideally we'd like to try a few alternatives before a) working out which one we like best for quality, money and service and b) whether any of the options beat popping to Waitrose (2 minutes walk from our house) and buying what we need as we want it.

Their first delivery contained a mixed fruit and veg box, the contents of which were very inconsistent in quality, plus an organic chicken; a beautiful bird - plump, firm meat which, when cooked, retained both moisture and a firm texture and tasted wonderful.

So I was delighted when I was offered further meat products to assess and review.

Problems with the delivery

Friday's delivery was duly arranged to include an boneless half leg of lamb and a bone in forerib joint of beef. I'd specifically mentioned that I'd like to try a bone in beef joint as this is something I find hard to source in local shops (Waitrose included) and would be interested in ordering online if it proves to be as good as I hear and read. So I was particularly pleased that Abel & Cole were generous enough to include it in my second delivery.

The meat arrived in the usual polystyrene box, wrapped in plastic and surrounded by ice-packs. Opening any deliveries that arrive by post is always a little like Christmas for me - even when I'm expecting the package and know just what's inside.

Lamb? Tick! A fine looking piece of meat. Perfect for the family BBQ at my parents' home on Sunday.

Beef? Oh no! Instead of the bone in joint, we find a boneless forerib instead. Scratch the plan to make stock from the bones!

Quickly, we check the paperwork. The receipt confirms that the order was placed correctly for boneless lamb and bone in beef. Looking at the beef itself, the label clearly reads Boned Forerib. I scramble onto the A & C website and notice an odd thing - firstly, although the text on the packet reads Boned Forerib, the product code, in slightly larger text, is the code for the bone in joint we expected. And what's more A & C don't even list a boned forerib joint!

I drop a note to the PR and marketing ladies and explain the mistake. "Exactly how would your customer services team respond to this mistake for a regular, paying customer", I ask? "I'm reviewing not just the product but your full service", after all.

The issue is passed across to Greg in Customer Services and the response I get is a good one: The letter starts with a sincere apology, a full refund for the beef joint and some information about how feedback on mistakes feeds back into the process and helps them to reduce repetition of such errors going forward. Chris goes on to make the following offer:

"I can't apologise enough for the inconvenience this has caused you and in the light of the problems you've experienced previously I would be more than happy to offer you the Forerib Joint, Bone In (1.5kg avg) free of charge next week should this be convenient for you. I would also hope you might be able to use the boned and rolled joint you have received in error as we would be happy for you to keep the item without charge. If it is no longer convenient for you to receive the beef joint we could always arrange to send you a free bottle of wine or olive oil as an apology instead."

The problem for me lies in the inconsistency - having made meal plans based on what one has ordered, it's very frustrating to receive something different (or of unusable quality) and have to juggle those plans at the last minute. Of course, A & C's generous attitude when putting mistakes right absolutely takes the edge off that frustration - after all, the upshot is that the customer receives two (very expensive, in this case) items for free - but it doesn't change the fact that they're not getting it right in the first place.

On one hand, their genuine warmth and desire to make amends when reacting to mistakes is commendable. On the other hand, it's disheartening to see that the quality control issues that plagued them some years ago are still prevalent.

It's all about the sumac!

I earmarked the lamb for a family BBQ at my parents' house long before it arrived. As I'd already promised that I'd be bringing and preparing it, I was relieved it was the beef and not the lamb that had been mixed up.

But what preparation for the lamb would suit being cooked on a BBQ and also work well with the loosely Indian-themed dishes mum had planned? I was stumped and asked for advice on food chat boards and from the twitter food blogger community.

Sumac seems to be one of the flavours of the moment and was recommended by quite a few folks so I plumped for a sumac-based marinade suggested by fellow food blogger, Gillthepainter, though I decided against the almond yoghurt sauce she made as an accompaniment.

I've never cooked with sumac before and actually had no idea what flavour it would give. Luckily, I did know where to find some as a small Iranian and Mediterranean shop has very recently opened just around the corner from us!

I blitzed the sumac with garlic, ground coriander seeds, olive oil and seasoning and rubbed and squished the resulting paste over and into my lamb, which I left to marinate in the fridge overnight.

In the event, the skies opened with a monsoon-like deluge and we switched to an indoor feast.

Honestly, I can't remember how long we roasted the lamb for - there was so much going on - but it was cooked just as I'd wanted - nicely brown on the outside with one end cooked medium and the other medium rare.

The lamb was absolutely lovely. Tender, moist, firm meat with a lovely flavour - a beautiful piece of meat. The marinade succeeded in the difficult task of allowing the lamb to shine whilst serving up something a little different.

The sumac gives what I would describe as quite a subtle citrusy flavour - not what I was expecting at all. It worked well with the garlic and coriander seeds and gave a pretty pinky-red colour to the dish.

I was gratified to see guests go back not just for seconds but for thirds too, with a number of comments about how good the lamb meat was.


Heavenly Housewife said...

Sumac is great stuff. Another cool thing to do with it is to brush pita bread with olive oil and dust on some sumac and sesame seeds. Heat it up and its totally delish! It is also seen sometimes sprinkled on top of middle eastern salads.

Gill the Painter said...

Beautifully cooked, Kavey.
Just imagine your guests going back for 2nds and 3rds!

I think you are spot on about inaccuracies in the C&A service though. Although their provision of freebies is the ultimate way to deal with service issues, it doesn't resolve the errors in the first place.

You'd rather pay for a bone-in joint as all.

Catherine said...

I'm very picky about the meat I buy at Waitrose - their free range Hampshire is usually pretty good, but I've always been disappointed in the beef and lamb. I reckon the way to go is a good butcher you can build up a relationship with and the farmers markets. Do you have a dearth of butchers near you?

I love sumac - must try roasting lamb with it.

Kavey said...

Yes we're not well served for butchers.
We've always enjoyed the rib of beef we've bought from Waitrose. But the lamb/ beef we've just had from A&C really did blow it out of the water!

Swedish Mike said...

Great post! Both the recipe as well as the description of what went on.

// Mike