Although spring lamb is about as archaic a term as spring chicken, this succulent commodity is still considered a harbinger of the season. But the fact is that very good, young, tender lamb is on the market all year long.
This means that anytime you have a hankering for a delectable lamb stew or sizzling platter of herbed chops, a trip to the supermarket will remedy the situation.
Even so, there are people — myself not included — with prejudices against lamb, claiming they don’t like the flavor or the odor.
The only thing that can cause a bad flavor or odor in good quality lamb is cooking it at too high a temperature.
This is because lamb fat, unlike other animal fats, burns at a lower degree of heat. As long as the meat isn’t roasted at temperatures exceeding 325 degrees, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Although I don’t classify lamb as an economy meat, some parts tend to cost less than others. While the loin chops, rack and leg are considered primo, the shoulder and shank portions provide the greatest money-saving potential.
Whatever cuts your budget will support, you’re bound to find a recipe or two on this page that will suit your taste.
Most supermarket lamb has been slaughtered between 6 to 12 months old. Past the first year, the meat must be labeled mutton.
Generally lamb has a milder, sweeter flavor prefered by most tastes in the United States. Lamb is divided into five primal cuts.
The shoulder (extends from the neck thyrough the fourth rib): The meat is flavorful but somewhat tough. Very good for chops, roasts, boneless stew meat.
The rib (directly behind the shoulder and extending from the fifth to the twelfth rib): Rack of lamb is cut from the rib; also, individual chops (called rib chops); meat from this area has a fine, tender grain and mild flavor.
The loin (extending from the last rib down to the hip area): Several roasts come from this cut, including the saddle; also the loin chop; like meat from the rib, it is tender and has a mild flavor.
The leg (runs from the hip area down to the hoof): You’ll find it sold whole or broken into smaller roasts and shanks; these roasts may be sold with the bones in, or boneless (butterflied); very rich and flavorful with medium-tenderness.
The foreshank and breast (from the underside of the lamb; includes the two front legs; each yielding a shank): Not a common cut, commercially.
The following recipe produces one of my favorite dishes.
Everything about it comes together: the marinated lamb, grilled to smokey perfection, alongside gently sauteed onions that were also steeping in the zesty marinade before hitting the pan.
Butterflied barbecued bamb
1 butterflied leg of lamb, trimmed of fat trimmed (see note below)
1 bottle of an herb and garlic salad dressing
1 cup dry red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, or Syrah)
½ cup soy sauce
4 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Be sure to trim away the entire blanket of fat that normally surrounds a leg of lamb. Combine the salad dressing with the wine and soy sauce. Place the lamb in a large container or plastic bag. Add the soy sauce mixture and onions and spread evenly over entire surface of the lamb. Marinate 12 to 24 hours in refrigerator, turning lamb occasionally so it remains evenly coated.
Broil the meat over a hot bed of coals, for 15 to 20 minutes, basting often. Turn and continue grilling for 15 to 20 minutes, continuing to baste occasionally. Meanwhile, drain onions from marinade and cook slowly in large frying pan over medium heat, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, until they are very soft and translucent.
Allow meat to “rest” for 5 minutes before cutting across the grain into desired thickness. Serve with the sauteed onions and Armenian Noodles and Nuts (recipe follows).
Yields about 6 servings, depending on size of the lamb.
Armenian noodles and nuts: Brown 1 cup long-grain white rice, 1/2 cup vermicelli (broken into 1/2-inch pieces), and 4 tablespoons pine nuts in a heavy pot with 2 tablespoons of salad oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When golden, add 2 cups chicken broth. After the mixture has come to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and cook over low for 25 minutes.
Yields 6 to 8 servings.
Braised lamb shank with mashed Yukon gold potatoes and roasted asparagus
6 lamb shanks (about ¾ to 1 pound each)
8 sprigs thyme
6 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, diced
6 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 celery ribs, peeled and chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 (750 ml) bottle dry, fruity red wine (such as Zinfandel or Syrah)
2 cups diced tomatoes (strained
2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons honey
Yukon gold mashed potatoes with caramelized onions (recipe follows)
Roasted asparagus (recipe follows)
Tie thyme, parsley and rosemary with cooking twine; reserve.
Season lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven (or large heavy-bottomed oven proof pot) over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, sear the shanks until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch, adding additional oil for second batch. Remove shanks to a plate.
Drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the Dutch oven; add the onion, garlic, celery and carrots. Saute over medium heat, until carrots begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until most of the liquid has reduced by about 2/3 (so there will be approximately 1-1/2 cups of liquid), about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beef stock, honey and herb bundle, then return to a boil. Add the shanks, cover tightly, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender, which will take about 3 hours. Be sure and baste the shanks occasionally to keep them moist.
Remove the shanks from the sauce and keep them covered on a warm platter while you complete the sauce: Remove the herb bundle and discard. Press the liquid and solids from the Dutch oven through a food mill or fine-meshed strainer. Return the puree to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid has thickened slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste, then return the shanks to the sauce until ready to serve. Serve alongside the mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.
Makes 6 servings.
Mashed Yukon golds with caramelized onions
1 large yellow onion
½ cup butter
¾ cup half &half
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled (or not; or partially peeled)
1½ teaspoons salt
To prepare the onion, cut it in half lengthwise from stem to root end. Trim off stem and root ends and peel. Place the onion halves on a cutting board, cut-side down and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut each half ring into half again. Cut enough onion pieces to measure 2 cups.
Place the prepared onion in a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot with the butter over medium heat. Cook the onion in the butter until it softens and turns a pale gold, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into 2- to 3-inch sized pieces of fairly uniform size for even cooking. Place them in a large pot with enough water to cover. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
While the potatoes are cooking, add the half &half to the butter and onion mixture and bring it just to a boil. Turn off the heat and set the mixture aside.
When the potatoes are tender, drain well into a colander. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash with a potato masher. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and continue mashing to mix in the salt. Stir in most of the hot cream, butter and onions and combine. The potatoes may seem too thin at this point, but you’ll notice that they soon thicken. Add additional cream/butter mixture to reach desired consistency. Add additional salt, if desired.
Makes 6 servings.
2 pounds asparagus spears, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Arrange asparagus in a single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Drizzle each sheet with half the oil, then toss and twirl the spears so they are nicely coated in oil. Salt and pepper each tray. Roast in the preheated oven until slightly wilted and the edges are browned, about 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and serve with lamb shanks and potatoes.
Makes 6 servings.
Butterflied leg of lamb
This is another term for boned leg of lamb. Once a lamb has been boned, it is thin enough to cook on a grill, just as you would a thick steak or London broil.
If you have never boned a leg of lamb, talk with your butcher. He or she will either do it for you, or at least give you a simple lesson on the process.
If you have a decent, sharp knife in your kitchen, it won’t be difficult. Once the lamb has been boned, trim away the blanket of fat as well.
I’ve adapted this recipe from a perfectly wonderful one I received recently from the folks at Kerrygold, makers of fine Irish cheeses and butters.
Their version called for beef and Irish ale. But I’ve given it a Pacific Northwest focus by featuring Oregon lamb and a hearty Pacific Northwest Red ale.
Of course, the Kerrygold Dubliner cheese that’s in the cobbler will remain there. It’s perfect. The earthy notes it provides plays off the lamb and malty Red ale to perfection.
Lamb in ale with cheese cobbler
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1½ pounds lamb (shoulder meat will be most flavorful and more economical than a loin cut), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 (12-ounce) bottle American Red ale or Amber ale (see note)
1 cup beef broth or stock
½ cup tomato puree
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or about 3/4 teaspoon dried)
2 cups self-rising flour
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted Kerrygold Irish butter (see note)
1 cup shredded Kerrygold Dubliner cheese
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ cups water
1 tablespoon milk for brushing tops
To make the casserole: In a large re-sealable plastic bag, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour mixture and set aside.
In a large ovenproof skillet or 12-inch braiser heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft but not browned. Add the beef and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until browned on all sides. Add the carrots and celery and stir to coat. Stir in the ale, beef broth, tomato puree, Worcestershire, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Uncover and cook until the meat is tender and the sauce starts to thicken, about 20 more minutes.
To make the cobbler: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour and mustard into a food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter, and pulse 4 to 5 times, or until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cheese, Tabasco, and 1/2 cup water. Process for 8 to 10 seconds (do not over-process), or just until a soft dough forms. Add more water, if necessary, and pulse again to combine. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Roll it out to 1/2-inch thickness. With a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 7-8 rounds; reroll and cut out more rounds to make 12. Arrange on top of the meat mixture, overlapping in a decorative pattern. Brush the tops of the cobbler with the milk.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cobbler is golden and the mixture is bubbling. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Note on American Red ale or Amber ale: Great choices from the beer section of any well-stocked market would be Rogue Ale’s St. Rogue Red or New Belgium Brewing’s Fat Tire Amber Ale.
Note on Kerrygold Irish Butter: This is a premium, high fat, European style butter that produces a rich flavor and golden-crisp pastry; if unavailable, regular butter may be substituted but results won’t be quite as rich and crispy-tender.
Makes 6 servings.
Adapted from the original recipe provided to Kerrygold USA, from “The Irish Spirit Cookbook,” by Margaret Johnson.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.