Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring for Lamb

Rack of lamb, salted, peppered and seared, then covered in a softened herb butter of lemon juice, lemon zest, parsley and chives, before being slowly oven roasted until juicy and rare.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

In like a lion and out like a Chive Lemon Rack of Lamb. 

Isn't that how how the saying goes?

Lemons and lamb.  It's such a classic pairing.  Just like limes and margaritas, lobsters and butter, steak and potatoes and even, lamb and man.

Oops, that last part may have come out a bit funny, but they're all timeless partners chocked full of tradition.  And although I'm not exactly sure when limes first snuggled up with margaritas, and lobsters took a swim in butter or steak took a hankering to potatoes, but I can tell you, that if you'd want to take a peek at man and lamb first heading down the path together, hoof in hand, you’d have to travel back some 10,000 years to Central Asia, back to a time found in the deepest and darkest recesses of human history.  A time before reading, before writing and thankfully, for some, before arithmetic.

It's hard to say if the lamb-man attraction was totally mutual (since dating records from this period no longer survive), but as people gradually transitioned to agriculture from shopping till they were dropping, I mean, from hunting and gathering, sheep became the first animals people ever domesticated.  And it was their domestication that launched the spread of civilization.

It's a pretty big claim, I know, but hey, who could make this all up?

And it wasn't only their milk and meat that people found so attractive.  For once they got the hang of spinning wool around 3500 B.C.E., textiles were born, with fleece as the first important industry to spur on international trade.

So, who would have thought?  Lamb and man, it really is a truly classic pairing.

But now, let's get down to the meat of the issue – sheep prepared for food is either known as "Mutton," "Baby Lamb," "Spring Lamb" or "Lamb."  "Baby Lamb" (known as “agneau de lait” in French or “abbacchio” in Italian) is lamb that’s 6 to 8 weeks old, and has not been weaned, while "Spring Lamb" is a milk-fed lamb at 3 to 5 months of age. 

Then, there’s the lamb you're most likely to encounter at the supermarket, and it’s simply labeled "Lamb."  It’s under one year of age and has been weaned on grass.  And finally, the oldest lamb available is a lamb called “Mutton.”  More popular in the Middle and Far East than in most Western countries, it's a mature lamb from 1 to 3 years of age, and as often comes with maturity, has a flavor that comes on strong and robust, and definitely set in its ways.

And as far as the tastes of the others, as a general rule of thumb, the younger the lamb, the milder the flavor and more tender the meat.

But as you might suspect, taste isn't all just about age, but also where the lamb comes from and how it was raised.  America, New Zealand and Australia are some of your major lamb players, and each have their fans, it all just depends on your taste.

American lamb has some of the largest animals, which are grass fed for most of their lives, and then fed grain for their last 30 days.  This last process, which is called "grain finishing," produces lamb that is larger, fattier and more tender, with lots of marbling – a characteristic that Americans also prize in their beef.  American lamb is also milder and the extra fat that it carries, helps the lamb baste itself as it’s cooking, which results in a dish that’s moist and juicy and tender to eat.

New Zealand lamb, on the other hand, is smaller since they’re only grass-fed on open pasture.  But although they’re leaner, with less marbling, they still remain tender, because they’re slaughtered younger.  However, they also have a more pronounced and gamy lamb-like flavor, which you’re sure to enjoy if that's what you prefer.  And lastly, Australian lamb has a flavor similar to that of New Zealand's, since it too lacks grain feeding, and it’s also leaner and less marbled.

So, let’s celebrate Spring with lamb, lemons and tradition.  They're all classic pairings, and not a moment too soon, for we’re just in time for that Spring tradition of all traditions – The Day of the Mother  ; - )

So, bring it on, for I'm ready.  And I've got a taste of tradition that'll make your Mother's Day Sunday extra special.  It's from my table to yours and I'm pleased to share it with you –


Serves 4

1 rack of lamb
4 tablespoons butter (softened)
2 teaspoons chives (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated)
1 teaspoon lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
kosher salt
black pepper (freshly cracked)

Preheat oven to 325°F and set rack to mid-oven.
Combine the softened butter with the chives, lemon zest and lemon juice.
Add 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, mix well to incorporate and set aside.

Add the oil to a large, ovenproof skillet placed over high heat.
Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the lamb.
When oil is hot (surface ripples), add the lamb and sear briefly on both sides.
Remove from heat and spread the seasoned butter mixture evenly over the top of the lamb.

Slide the skillet into the oven and roast until the meat’s internal temperature reaches 130°F (rare).  Remove from oven and let the lamb rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.  Once ready to serve, spoon the melted butter sauce from the skillet onto each portion and serve with additional lemon wedges.

And here’s a peek at what’s coming up next – 

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