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Some Guidelines for Cooking Lamb : But Doneness Is Still a Matter of Personal Preference

Times Staff Writer

According to the American Lamb Council, Americans prefer lamb that is cooked medium rather than rare or well done. But doneness is a matter of personal preference. The French, for instance, prefer rare lamb, whereas Greeks enjoy lamb well done, almost falling from the bone.

We give guidelines for cooking lamb below. However, there is nothing like one’s own judgment when testing desired doneness of meat. For the ultimate test, cut a small sample of meat and bite into it.

Because of objections to the odor of lamb by some diners, the lamb council suggests using low to moderate heat for most dishes, since all protein foods toughen and shrink excessively when cooked at a sustained high heat. However, some cooks prefer higher temperatures to achieve crisp surfaces. Piercing the meat will cause precious juices to ooze and be lost. However, if unsure of doneness, especially when cooking a roast, it’s best to test the meat by piercing the thickest part of the lamb roast. Juices will be clear and golden in color, not pink, when meat is cooked medium or well done.

Roasting

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For most cuts, including roasts, such as leg of lamb (boneless or bone-in), shank half, shoulder, rib roast or crown roast, use an oven temperature of 325 degrees. Use a meat thermometer for best results. An internal temperature of 140 degrees is considered rare, 160 degrees is medium and 170 degrees well done.

French Roasting

However, if you prefer the French searing method when roasting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and roast 15 or 20 minutes to brown, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue roasting to desired degree of internal doneness. The method produces an excellent roast, but does result in some shrinkage and oven spattering.

Broiling

For broiling, set the oven regulator for broil. Place the lamb on a rack in the broiling pan and broil two to five inches from the source of heat. Thicker chops should be farther away; thinner chops closer to the heat source. Season the cooked side with salt and pepper or other seasonings, then turn the lamb and broil on the second side until done. Season and serve immediately. Use tongs to turn chops and steaks. Piercing the meat excessively with a fork should be avoided since it allows more juice to escape.

Pan-Broiling

To pan-broil lamb, place the lamb in a heavy skillet. Do not add fat or water and do not cover. Cook slowly and turn the lamb occasionally, pouring off any fat that accumulates. Cook until the lamb is browned on both sides and is as done as you like it. Season with salt and pepper and any other desired seasoning or sauces.

Pan-Frying

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Tender cuts of lamb, such as loin chops, rib chops, shoulder chops, sirloin steaks, leg steaks and patties, may be pan-fried. To pan-fry, heat a small amount of fat in a skillet. Add the lamb and brown slowly, uncovered, turning occasionally. Cook over medium heat until the lamb is done and browned on both sides. Season with salt, pepper and any desired seasoning.

Barbecuing

Because of its tenderness, lamb is ideal for outdoor cookery. The cuts best suited for barbecuing are boneless, rolled, butterflied or bone-in leg of lamb, shoulder, rack and loin roasts, rib, loin, leg and shoulder chops, spareribs, kebabs and lamb burgers.

Use glowing coals covered with fine gray ash (not a flaming fire). Spread coals about an inch apart to ensure moderate temperatures.

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Remove excess fat from chops and steaks before cooking to eliminate smoke and fire flare-ups. Use tongs for turning to avoid loss of natural juices.

Rotisserie Cooking

For rotisserie cooking, choose only compact, cylindrical lamb roasts for best results. Insert the rotisserie rod lengthwise through the center of the roast and test for balance by turning the rod in your hands. Make sure the meat is fastened securely to the rod so it won’t slip during cooking.

If using a meat thermometer, insert at an angle through the end of the roast so the tip is in the center of the meat. Make sure the thermometer does not touch bone or any equipment as it rotates.

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Lamb is especially good if basted during roasting. If the sauce contains sugar or other ingredients that burn easily, baste only during the last half-hour of roasting.

Allow 10 to 15 minutes after roasting before carving.

Place butterflied leg of lamb weighing four to seven pounds five to seven inches from heat and cook 40 to 60 minutes; for 1 1/2-inch kebabs, place three to five inches from heat and cook 13 to 15 minutes; for three-quarter-inch to two-inch-thick chops, arm, blade, rib, loin or sirloin, place three inches from the heat and cook 10 to 22 minutes. For one-inch steaks, place three inches from the heat and cook 15 to 18 minutes.

Braising

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The moist heat method of cooking is used for small and large less tender meat cuts, such as neck, shoulder chops and roast, riblets, breast, shanks and cubed lamb.

Heat a small amount of fat in a heavy pan and brown the lamb on all sides. Pour off drippings and season with salt and pepper or any other seasonings desired. Add about three-quarters to one cup water, juice, soup, broth or any appropriate liquid to pan.

Cover tightly and cook at a low temperature until tender. Cooking time will take from one to two hours, depending on the tenderness of the meat cut. Shanks will take 1 1/2 to two hours, whereas shoulder chops will take 45 minutes to one hour. Test for doneness by sampling a small piece of meat. If it is still chewy and fibrous, cook it a little longer until very tender.

Stewing

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Use less tender meat cuts, such as neck slices, stew meat, riblets and shanks. First, brown the lamb on all sides in a small amount of fat. Cover the lamb with appropriate liquid (broth or water) and add seasonings. Cover tightly and simmer over low heat until the meat is tender. Vegetables can be added about 20 to 40 minutes before the stew is done, depending on the type of vegetable. Liquid may be thickened with a paste of flour and water, first stirring a small amount of water into the paste, then returning it to the pan and blending.


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