Aussie Lamb lovers, meet Conor Hanlon, Chef de Cuisine of The Dutch at W South Beach. Conor’s dish, Australian Lamb Saddle with Goat Cheese Polenta and Romesco, has won the Miami Spring Fling menu competition. As the grand prize winner, Chef Hanlon will now be flown to Australia to visit the continent’s beef and lamb production regions, and visit Sydney to sample some of Australia’s multi-cultural dining scene. For a look at last year’s trip, click here.
“I'm incredibly humbled to be included in this excursion to Australia; seeing where my ingredients come from is a huge priority for me.” says Conor. “I look forward to seeing how the climate and terroir effect the quality and flavor.”
The winning dish was developed as an item for The Dutch Miami’s summer menu, and a way to use a red meat alternative to increasingly pricey beef. “We wanted something that would look vibrant on the plate, and taste bright and flavorful on the palate as well.” explains Conor. The combination of the rich and rustic polenta sticks with the bold, smoky romesco, and the sweetness of the roasted summer veggies and confit’d tomatoes, brings out the best in the lamb saddle.
“I love Aussie lamb because it has a remarkably clean flavor and is nice and lean. Our guests here in South Florida are pretty conscious about what they’re eating, and want leaner proteins, so the saddle is the perfect cut.”
Tasting the dish, the judges loved the flavor balance and perfectly cooked, moist and tender meat. So what’s the Chef’s secret to using a lean cut like saddle? “People often overcook or slice their leaner meats too quickly,“ says Conor. “With a proper rest and short cooking time, you get a much better result.”
And then there’s the “fat corner” in the walk-in. Not wanting to waste anything, Conor and his team store carefully rendered fat from bacon, duck and lamb, often infusing them with flavors from garlic and rosemary, as he does with the lamb. A little of the infused lamb fat is basted on the saddle in the romesco dish, and it’s the cooking fat that starts his lamb Bolognese, another staple on The Dutch’s menu. “A little goes a long way,” says Conor. “You get that delicious, unctuous flavor and mouthfeel, but you can still use a leaner piece of meat.”
As a chef, Conor feels a responsibility to help his guests discover new flavors and less familiar ingredients, like lamb. “We’re in a position to use our training and skills to make new foods look appealing to the eye, seem approachable, and show how good they can taste.” He explains. “It’s rewarding to see someone’s perceptions change after just one bite.”