Maruia Hot Springs Lodge
When I put my skis on, I am 16 again and, sometimes, speeding down the slopes, I feel the urge to compete again, even if it’s just with myself.
Unfortunately, this time around, I wasn’t in my 16-year-old body (or mind) that would hit the ice-crusted snow at high speeds. I was in my much older body that laid on the slope to deal with a dislocated shoulder. As a result, we decide to hit the road early and drive along the West Coast. As we drove on SH7 along the inland route from Christchurch to the West Coast, the scenery changed dramatically. We left behind the open space of the Central Otago, with the snow-capped mountains that crowned the empty golden grasslands and the light turquoise colour of the lakes. We were now in the dense rain forest that dominated the steep valleys at the bottom of which lay out washed gravel deposited by the glacial action.
Our stop for the evening was the ‘Maruia Hot Springs and Lodge’. Located on Lewis Pass, the complex was immersed in a lush beech trees forest, high above the river and surrounded by rugged mountains. According to the information leaflet, this site has been a place of relaxation and healing for centuries. It was firstly used by Maori as a place to heal battle wounds, recover from trauma and rest in the comfort of hot mineral springs.
In the late 1800’s European settlers built thermal health and rehabilitation bathhouses. The natural hot water is piped across the river and its temperature is reduced with cold water.
The water in the rock bathing pools is speckled with black algae of the same family as spirulina with a variety of health benefits. The bonus is that, in the middle of the winter, there are no sand-flies! The bathing complex includes a dry and a infra-red sauna, an indoor pool, and a relaxation area. The rooms are simple but comfortable. Powered by their own hydroelectric power, with an almost 360-degree mountain view, each one fitting harmoniously into the surroundings.
Our evening bathing session is followed by their house-made ‘Heaven & Earth’ kombucha, home baked pizza and one of the best lamb stews I’ve had on this holiday.
Back at home, while recovering from the accident, I’ve comforted myself with one of my favourite Lamb recipes: Fricassea di Agnello. Lamb Stew with Egg and Lemon.
The term fricassee refers to the addition, just before serving, of lemon juice and egg to create a thick and creamy gravy.
Fricassea di Agnello
(This recipe serves 4-6)
- 1 kilo lamb shoulder (or other stew meat) cut into cubes
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- Flour (rice flour for a GF version)
- White wine and water
- Salt and pepper
For the egg and lemon finish:
- 2 egg yolks
- Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- Begin with a soffritto, by gently sauteeing the onion in the olive oil.
- Then add the lightly floured cubes of lamb meat and turn up the heat a bit. Allow the meat to brown slightly, then add a glass of dry white wine and allow it to evaporate completely.
- Add enough water to almost cover the meat, lower the flame and cover. Let the lamb braise until tender, normally about 1 and ½ hours. Add a bit more water if needed, to have enough liquid for the final step.
- Cook until the meat is fork tender, then remove from the heat.
The trickiest part of this dish is the final addition of the lemon and egg mixture.
- In a bowl, beat egg yolks with the lemon juice, then pour the mixture immediately over the lamb and stir, until well incorporated.
- Return to the burner over very low heat and keep stirring gently, until the egg has thickened the cooking liquid into a smooth, silky consistency. Do not let it cook too long or the egg may curdle.
- Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately
Note: You can prepare the stew in advance and reheat when you are ready to serve it