When my hero died, I hit the freezer seeking a bag of dead sheep stomach. Jim Harrison, the last of the great red-blooded male American writers, passed over Easter. And with Jim having been a bit of a gourmand, I decided to make a big pot of something meaty, hearty and comforting, something the great man would have approved of. Remember, this is the guy who once wrote: “Men were not born to eat small portions.”
Fortunately, the contents of my freezer played along. Two lamb stomachs. Eight trotters. One sheep’s head. All sourced from animals that had spent a satisfying – albeit it brief- life walking and grazing the vast shrub-land of South Africa’s Karoo region.
No better lamb, anywhere in the world, and I really regret that Jim didn’t live long enough to try some.
Cooking the perfect dish of lamb tripe – afval in Afrikaans – is one of the world’s great artistic accomplishments. Fortunately my house-boy, Julius Firengki, is the Michelangelo of tripe cooking and a joy to watch.
The meat is thawed, placed in a pot. Add a splash of brown vinegar, cup of water and a glass of dry white wine, salt and pepper, three bay-leaves.
In the oven, 120 degrees, for three hours. Take the dish from oven. Now, add one pork trotter and a couple of pieces of lamb shank to give the dish a bit of savoury.
Back in the oven, same heat. Five hours. Remove and allow to cool. Then Julius goes about the meticulous process of removing all the little lamb-feet bones, the skull and jaw of the sheep. Surgeon-like precision.
Slice four potatoes in fours. Back in the oven, crank it up to 160 degrees. Once the potatoes are soft, you are ready to roll. Serve on rice or on a slice of buttered fresh whole-wheat bread.
This is fatty, unctuous, decadently rich and enormously satisfying, so much flavour. Rich and comforting, with a texture that reminds you of the first time the babysitter kissed you with a bit of tongue.
It is gorgeous food, wild and feral and exciting.
But what for wine? Now, nobody can call him or herself a Chardonnay-lover if they have not had it with lamb or sheep tripe. Like Clyde was for Bonny, Richards for Jagger and Baby Oil for Miley Cyrus, Chardonnay and tripe were made for each other.
For my meal, the ode to Jim, I placed two bottles of Chardonnay before me. Both 2015 wines, and new releases, namely the Paul Cluver from Elgin and the De Wetshof Finesse.
Both wines wooded, showing that elegance and grace can be beautifully muscular and assertive.
Julius opened both bottles while I waited for him to plate the tripe, pouring me a smidgen in each glass to test for faults.
The wines were perfect, so I added to the contents of the glasses while my houseboy placed the beautiful plate of steaming tripe before me.
First I ate three forkfuls, the fatty sauce coating my palate and adding body and spirit and verve to my blood. The hot, scrumptious morsels of stomach, hoof and head adding to my already admirable sense of self-belief and inner strength.
The Paul Cluver Chardonnay 2015 is, arguably, the best ever from this wonderful Elgin estate. There is purity of fruit that cleanses the mind as well as the palate, a soft caress of dried buttercups, raw Highland oatmeal and Key limes adding luscious flavours to the senses; dew-fresh winter melon, a stream of fynbos honey with just a hint of smoked green paprika to give the work a bit wood complexity.
It is so alive, this wine. An authentic, civilised and classic wine singing fresh tunes with melody and rapture. Like the statue of David waltzing to a Carpenters’ song.
Together with the tripe, this was a mystical, spiritual piece of living.
Next up, De Wetshof Finesse 2015, one of the five Chardonnays in the range offered by this legendary Robertson winery, one of South Africa’s Chardonnay pioneers.
On the nose, a bit broader than the Paul Cluver – but really a no-brainer when considering Robertson’s rich limestone soils. The plushness extends to the mouth, a richness of the perfumed, velvety kind. A brisk sea-breeze offers kelpish layers of salt and stone, while the Garden of Eden’s best, virginal bunches of fruit are packed in layers. Juice-laden ruby grapefruit. Purple, puckered grenadillas the size of buffalo gonads, bursting with sap. Ripe, sun-kissed Golden Delicious apples cool and crisp to the bite.
This is South Africa, and this is Chardonnay. But still, now that Jim’s gone the world is a poorer place.
– Lafras Huguenet