TV cook, food entrepreneur and Try Lamb ambassador Fiona Uyema shares her culinary journey from Ireland to Japan and back again, to bring inspiration to anyone’s weekly meal plans and offer tips on how to try lamb with a variety of recipes.
Fiona has always had a love of lamb, growing up on her family sheep farm in Tipperary. It was these early days of working on the land that instilled her respect for food provenance and the importance of creating dishes that use local produce.
During her time living in Japan, Fiona brought her knowledge of Asian cooking back to Ireland and started to experiment with exciting ingredient combinations inspired by her travels with local produce.
Fiona can be seen on shows such as Ireland AM, Six O’Clock Show and has a series of cookbooks and Asian inspired cooking sauces ‘Fused by Fiona Uyema’. She lives in Co. Kildare with her two children and husband, Gilmar.
1. This is your third year as a Try Lamb ambassador, why is this campaign so important to you?
I have really enjoyed working on this campaign in the last few years as it has allowed me to share my passion of using local ingredients like lamb and fusing them with Asian flavours and coming up with beautiful recipes, which have been received really well by the public. I also have a personal connection to the campaign as I grew up on a sheep farm and saw the produce and the quality of lamb firsthand.
2. What are the best ways to introduce lamb to weekly meals?
I think start off with a basic recipe like stir fry. It really opens people’s minds to the fact that lamb is versatile. When people cook a stir fry they might think of chicken and then maybe prawn or beef, but they might not think of lamb. I think that meal planning is so important now more than ever. If you have a meal plan and you’re working in your home office you can have a shoulder of lamb roasting for five hours, so you have this wonderful roast working away in the oven while you are doing something else.
3. Your Asian inspiration has shown how diverse lamb can be, when did you first discover that lamb worked so well with Asian cooking?
It was when I came home from living in Japan to Ireland where my passion started by using local ingredients and fusing them with Asian cooking. I think when you leave your country you come back with a renewed sense of appreciation of what you leave behind so it gave me an appreciation of the fantastic food that we have here in Ireland, such as meat and the fact that I spent so much time when I first came back from Japan just testing ingredients in my kitchen. In the introduction of my books there is a big focus on making my recipes accessible to people in Ireland, using local Irish lamb, meat, and even seaweed for example. When people think of Asian cooking, they think of a list of ingredients that may be hard to get.Ireland, when you think about it, is actually similar to Japan in that they are both green island nations and all the beautiful ingredients we have actually work really well for Japanese cooking.
4. What is the best way to introduce children to lamb in meals?
For my own children, we use for a lot of our Asian marinades or sometimes we use a bit of honey, which really sweetens the lamb as well and cuts through the meat. We would integrate lamb into their diet by replacing it with a meat that you use normally in a meal that kids are familiar with, so you aren’t changing the entire dish and it’s not as much of a different concept for them. So, you can get lamb mince and make lamb meatballs or Bolognese. If they like curry, something like my one pot curry recipe can substitute beef or chicken with lamb and they wouldn’t know the difference; just that the meal has more flavour.
5. What’s your personal favourite lamb recipe?
We love lamb stir fry - because we have a busy household with two boys, I love that it’s so fast and the flavours that come through from the lamb are absolutely delicious. When people think of lamb, they think of a roast in the oven for a long time, but this is one of my favourites because it can be done quickly.
6. What’s your favourite cut of meat?
My favourite cut is lamb shoulder. We have Asian style lamb pancakes a lot using shoulder, we just leave that in the oven for hours with the Asian marinade, a bit of water in the tray, and the meat just falls off the bone; it’s absolutely delicious. Even without the Asian pancake twist you can adjust that as well to make it a traditional potato and vegetable dish, so it’s versatile in that sense.
7. What do you love about cooking with lamb?
First of all, it’s the guaranteed flavour in any of the dishes I make, especially the ones that I have made for the lamb campaign. You’re just 100% satisfied after eating them. It’s also really important to me to support local farmers. From growing up on a farm myself you realise how hard farmers work. My mum and dad never had a day off, they still don’t as they still work, so you know that you are supporting local farmers which I think is really important. With lamb you can be confident that the animals have been reared in line with strict policies resulting in really good quality meat. I get a sense of satisfaction cooking with local ingredients and then the absolute flavour that you get from that.
8. Which of your recipes do your followers love?
I got the biggest reaction to my lamb stir fry dish. My sauce company works a lot with stir fry dishes and from meeting a lot of people, most people make a stir fry a few times a week or at least once and they are very common in Ireland which I didn’t realise. I think that the concept of using lamb meant people were really intrigued by it – I got a lot of private messages on the recipe.
9. When do you enjoy lamb the most?
I like making it for friends coming over because people are genuinely quite surprised by what we do with it and we love that it is a way of introducing people to something new. It’s also not a massive effort, so you aren’t exhausted from cooking by the time your guests come. When we have friends over, which at the moment tends to be one family, lamb has gone down really well with them. There is a satisfaction to introducing people to a recipe or something a little bit different.
10. Do you think that people sometimes forget how suitable lamb is for different occasions?
I definitely think that when people think of lamb they think of Easter, there is no doubt about it. They also think of a roast, so they think it takes a long time to prepare. I think that people tend to try food in restaurants that they don’t usually have at home. It doesn’t mean that they don’t eat it, it just means that they don’t cook with it. I think that if lamb was on more restaurant menus it would open people to the concept of different ways of cooking lamb and sharing recipes. I definitely think what we are doing here by creating recipes with chefs and home cooks helps to educate on how easy it is to prepare and cook lamb.
11. Why would you recommend people to try lamb?
It’s local and the flavours are absolutely delicious. While my recipes focus on Asian it tends to actually work with a lot of cuisines such as Italian in a Bolognese - it’s so versatile and when cooking this is so important, but also the quality of lamb, and the flavour comes through from that.