We haven't talked much about lamb yet this week; the lure of bacon and pork products is strong. But lamb, while not as popular as pork and beef, is really the meat I personally eat most frequently. Its wonderful flavor and good qualities seem to help it go farther than beef or pork, and consequently I use less when I cook with it. We'll talk about lamb again as Easter approaches, but for now here's one simple lamb recipe for you to try, as well as some tips on cooking this flavorful meat.
I feel that lamb has a much more interesting and complex flavor than beef. Some people don't care for the flavor, but sometimes I wonder if they just haven't had fresh, well-raised lamb, or if perhaps they've actually been eating mutton. Mutton is the meat of an older sheep, and it does tend to be more gamey and tough. (Incidentally, some restaurants and recipes refer to goat meat as mutton too.)
Also, I personally think that lamb is one meat that should never be left rare and bloody. Its flavor isn't well-served by this at all, and I do not think the natural texture is well-suited to this treatment. Rare lamb is too chewy for me; it almost never has that melting texture of a good rare steak. A healthy medium, with plenty of pink still showing through the center, seems to bring out the flavor of the lamb best. But you may feel differently — that's just my personal opinion.
Here's a little more on lamb and cooking lamb.
• Lamb is a relatively lean meat. A small three-ounce serving has about 175 calories. (For comparison's sake, the serving of lamb in the recipe below is about twice that size and ends up being about 300 calories.)
• Choosing lamb:There are five major cuts of lamb available in the U.S.: shoulder, rack, shank, loin, and leg. These cuts are often available as chops, roasts, stew meat, steaks, or ground. I use a lot of ground lamb, especially in meatballs. Remember you can always ask the butcher or grocery store meat counter staff to grind meat fresh for you, or to cut up a leg of lamb into stew meat.
• Cooking lamb: Dry heat cooking methods, such as grilling, roasting or broiling, are suitable for cuts such as chops, roasts, and steaks. Moist heat cooking methods, such as braising or stewing, are suitable for cuts such as stew meat and shanks.
• Ground lamb should be cooked to 160°F. Roasts, steaks, chops, etc. may be cooked to 145°F (medium rare) or 160°F (medium). Lamb is quick-cooking, so it’s important not to overcook. It's also important to use a meat thermometer to ensure lamb is cooked to the proper level of doneness.
Here's a recipe that has all the hallmarks of a good lamb dish: plenty of warm spices and herbs. Chops like these are a good way to cook for just one or two; you can make just enough.
In a dry skillet, toast fennel, cumin, coriander, rosemary and pepper for a few minutes until aromatic; let cool and grind coarsely in a spice grinder or blender. Stir in salt, garlic, oregano, thyme and lime zest. Rub both sides of each lamb chop with about a tablespoon of the spice mixture; cover and let stand for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400 °F. Heat two oven-proof large skillets over medium-high heat; add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to each pan and bring just to the smoking point. Place four lamb chops in each hot pan and sear for 5 minutes; turn lamb to sear the second side for an additional 2 minutes. Place the pans into the oven and continue to cook the chops for 5 to 10 minutes or until lamb is cooked to your liking.
Nutrition per serving: 316 calories, 22 g total fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 307 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 25 g protein.