Lamb roasting in the oven or on a spit heralds springtime for many families around the world.
But the significance of lamb is deeper for Christians observing Easter. For them, lamb symbolizes religious celebration and hospitality.
Actually there is no better time than Easter to be introduced to lamb if you are looking for a change of pace from the usual meat, chicken or fish.
Previously lamb was thought of as a seasonal meat available only in the spring. Now lamb, both fresh and fresh-frozen, is found year-round in meat markets throughout the country.
In the United States, seasonality and lack of familiarity with meat preparation has in the past caused lamb to play a distant second fiddle to beef and pork. But lately, as distribution and variety of lamb cuts have increased and familiarity with the meat has risen, consumption has been going up steadily. International restaurant chefs are chiefly responsible for educating the public on the virtues of lamb cuisine by introducing more and more diners to the incredible variety of the meat.
But American lamb is only part of the marketing picture, although a major part. Nearly 10% of our consumption is imported from other countries, chiefly New Zealand and Australia, major world producers. New Zealand milk-fed and grass-fed lamb is slaughtered at between four and six months, while American lamb is almost a year old when slaughtered. Yearling is from 12 to 24 months old; mutton is more than 24 months old. As a rule, neither yearling nor mutton are available at retail stores. The smaller size of New Zealand lamb, and its somewhat gamy flavor is preferred by some aficionados of lamb, while others prefer the larger, meatier American lamb. Most markets carry both.
For those looking for ways of cutting down on fat, either for dieting or for maintaining weight, lamb is ideal. Nearly all the fat in lamb is trimable. And because lamb is processed from young animals, there is little fat within the muscle tissue.
Tender lamb can be prepared using methods that do not require added fat. A 3-ounce serving of lamb trimmed of fat contains 8.02 grams total fat, of which 4.5 grams is saturated fat. A 3-ounce serving of lean New Zealand leg of lamb contains 5 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat. This compares with 9.4 grams total fat and 4.5 grams saturated fat for beef, 11.1 grams total fat and 3.8 grams saturated fat for pork, and 11.5 grams total fat and 5.5 grams saturated fat for veal.
Lamb provides high-quality proteins, containing all the essential amino acids; B-complex vitamins (Vitamin A from the liver), and some minerals (notably iron).
Lamb is also one of the most versatile of tender meats. Tender cuts, such as loin, rib or shoulder chops, steaks, ground lamb patties and kebabs are ideal for cooking by dry-heat methods: roasting, broiling, pan-broiling and pan-frying. For less-tender cuts such as roast, use moist-heat methods: braising and cooking in liquid.
Whatever the method, low heat produces best results for lamb. Slow cooking is more uniform and helps retain juices.
When preparing lamb for roasting, do not remove the fell (the thin, paper-like covering) from the leg before roasting, as it helps the leg retain its moisture.
Place the roast fat side up on a rack in an open roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper, plus any other seasonings desired. Insert a thermometer in the muscle, being careful not to let it come to rest against a bone or in fat so that the reading will be accurate. Roast to desired degree of doneness.
For most cuts, use an oven temperature of 300 to 325 degrees. Use a meat thermometer for best results. An internal temperature of 140 degrees is considered rare, while 160 degrees is medium. Roast to 170 degrees for well done and to 180 degrees for extra-well-done. Like beef, lamb is safe to serve rare, at 140 degrees. However, many people prefer to eat lamb cooked from medium to well-done. Overcooking makes lamb dry and less tender, but some ethnic groups prefer it so well done the meat fairly falls from the bone.
It is always desirable to allow a roast to stand in a warm place for 15 to 20 minutes after removing it from the oven to make slicing easy. During this period, the roast will continue to cook inside and the internal temperature will rise almost 10 degrees.
If fresh lamb is used, be prepared to cook it within a day or two of purchase. It need not be removed from its film wrappings and should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator at a temperature of 32 degrees to 40 degrees. If meat is stored for more than two days, remove the wrappings and cover loosely with wax paper. If it is not to be used by the end of the fourth day, it is best to freeze it. Ground lamb should always be used within 24 hours, since ground meat does not have the keeping qualities of solid pieces.
We give you several roasted lamb recipes for your enjoyment and use throughout the year, particularly when you entertain.
A roast lamb dish fashioned after Beef Wellington is a perfect choice for an elegant Easter table. The accompaniments of rice and a bouquet of spring vegetables would round out the menu.
Indonesian Rack of Lamb is a recipe from Trader Vic’s, whose mastery with barbecued lamb is unexcelled. We have taken liberties to serve the curried racks as a crown filled with orange-flavored rice.
Minted barbecue lamb is a recipe from my own past, as it was prepared by my mother during the spring season. Ask the meat man to bone the lamb, reserving the bone for soups.
At our house, lamb was often served with orzo, a rice-shaped noodle now widely available.
The Victory Rack of Lamb is covered with mustard and a herbed bread-crumb mixture. We show it at “cross swords” by interlocking the “Frenched” bones. The racks are served with salt-roasted red potatoes, with flavor added by baking them with the roast. For A Spanish-Oriental flair, try Roast Leg of Lamb Barcelona, which is marinated with orange juice and Sherry and seasoned with soy sauce and brown sugar.
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) leg of lamb
Sprig each rosemary, thyme, parsley and mint
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 pound mushrooms, minced
3 shallots, minced
1 (3-ounce) can liver pate
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons half and half
Have butcher bone, trim and tie leg of lamb to form long roll. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley and mint in baking pan large enough to hold roast. Place lamb over herbs in baking pan and roast at 400 degrees until meat thermometer registers 145 to 150 degrees. Cool completely, then remove strings and discard them.
Heat butter in skillet, then add mushrooms and shallots. Cook until lightly browned and dry, about 5 minutes. Mix in pate. Cool and set aside.
Roll out puff pastry sheets to form rectangle 1 1/2-inches wider than roast and long enough to wrap around roast. Spread mushroom mixture in center of pastry in shape of roast. Place meat, rounded side up, on mushroom mixture. Bring up sides of dough over meat, roll up ends and press to seal firmly, cutting off any excess dough. Roll out trimmings and cut into floral and leaf shapes using miniature aspic cutters or free form.
Place pastry-wrapped meat, seam side down, on lightly greased and floured baking sheet lined with foil. Carefully press pastry cutouts onto surface of pastry in floral design.
Beat egg yolk and half and half. Brush egg yolk mixture over pastry cutouts, then brush over entire surface of dough. Bake at 400 degrees 30 to 40 minutes, depending on rareness preferred. If pastry browns too rapidly, cover with loose tent of foil. Cool few minutes before slicing. Serve with Madeira Sauce. Makes 6 servings.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion or 2 shallots, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brown cooking sauce
1 1/2 cups Madeira
Melt butter in small skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is lightly browned. Stir in brown cooking sauce until smooth.
Add Madeira and cook until reduced by 1/3. Strain through fine sieve and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 1 cup.
INDONESIAN RACK OF LAMB (Trader Vic’s)
2 (6- to 7-chop) racks of lamb
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup oil
1/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons steak sauce
3 tablespoons curry powder
2 dashes hot pepper sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup prepared mustard
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup toasted peanuts
Have butcher tie racks to form crown.
Saute celery, onion and garlic in oil. Add vinegar, steak sauce, curry powder, hot pepper sauce, honey, oregano, bay leaves, mustard and lemon juice and zest. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Cool slightly.
Brush marinade over entire surface of lamb. Marinate several hours or overnight, basting often.
Wrap bones with foil, leaving meat exposed. Place rack in shallow baking pan. Brush meat again with marinade and bake at 400 degrees 30 to 40 minutes or until meat is done as desired.
Remove any string and foil from crown, using wood pick if necessary to keep from falling apart. Fill cavity of rack with Orange Rice. Garnish with peanuts. Decorate tips of ribs by inserting candied kumquat onto each, or every other rib around rack. Slice between ribs to serve with remaining rice. Makes 6 servings.
1 1/2 cups rice
1/4 cup butter
Grated zest of 2 oranges
1 tablespoon sugar
Cook rice in water to cover 10 minutes. Drain. Place butter in pan. Add orange zest and sugar and saute until orange zest is translucent.
Add rice and mix lightly. Cover with lid wrapped in clean absorbent towel, being sure edges of towel are safely away from any flame. Cook over very low heat 15 minutes or until rice is fluffy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes 6 servings.
MINTED BARBECUED BUTTERFLY LAMB
2 or 4 sprigs oregano
2 or 4 sprigs thyme
2 or 4 sprigs rosemary
2 or 4 sprigs mint
1 (4- to 5-pound) leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
4 to 6 cloves garlic, slivered
1 bunch mint, leaves only
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Place 1/2 sprigs of oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint in bottom of shallow pan large enough to hold leg of lamb. Place butterflied lamb flat over herbs. Make several incisions on surface of lamb and insert sliver of garlic into each incision. Insert mint leaf into each incision, using tip of knife to push through.
Combine oil and vinegar and rub over lamb on both sides. Rub lamb on both sides generously with salt and pepper. Place remaining sprigs of herbs over roast. Cover and marinate several hours or overnight in refrigerator.
When ready to barbecue, prepare medium hot coals on grill. Remove lamb from marinade and lay flat on grill, fat side down, basting often with marinade remaining in pan and turning frequently to brown evenly.
Place on cutting board and garnish with additional mint sprigs. Slice against grain to serve into thin or medium-thin slices. Serve with Orzo. Makes 6 servings.
1/2 pound orzo
1/4 cup butter
Cook orzo in boiling salted water until tender, according to package directions. Drain.
Melt butter in saucepan until almost brown. Add drained orzo. Toss to coat well with browned butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
VICTORY RACK OF LAMB (Victoria Station)
2 (6-bone) racks of lamb
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed marjoram
1 teaspoon crushed rosemary
Salt-Roasted Small Red Potatoes
Have butcher remove backs and feather bones on lamb. French bone tips by removing flesh to expose about 1/2-inch bone. Sprinkle racks generously with salt and pepper.
Place racks in baking pan and roast at 400 degrees 30 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 145 degrees. Remove from oven. Cover French-cut bones with foil. Place racks under broiler, meaty side up, and broil until browned.
Brush eye and top of racks with mustard. Combine bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, marjoram and rosemary. Spoon dressing over rib side of racks and spread to cover meaty portion. Place under broiler until dressing is browned.
Arrange racks on serving platter with ribs interlocking. Insert small Salt-Roasted Small Red Potato into each rib tip or serve around roast. Carve double ribs for each serving. Makes 6 servings.
Salt-Roasted Small Red Potatoes
12 small red potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Peel ribbon of skin around potatoes, leaving remaining skin intact. Parboil red potatoes in boiling salted water until barely tender. Combine oil, salt and pepper and roll potatoes in oil mixture, coating completely.
Place in baking pan and bake at 350 degrees (with roast or in same baking pan with roast) 20 minutes, turning to brown evenly and finish cooking. Makes 12 potatoes.
ROAST LEG OF LAMB BARCELONA
1 (5 to 6-pound) leg of lamb
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup Sherry
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup water
Remove excess fat from leg and place lamb in plastic bag. Combine orange juice, Sherry, soy sauce, onion, brown sugar, ginger and garlic. Mix well. Pour into plastic bag with lamb. Secure top.
Place bag in shallow pan. Refrigerate overnight, turning bag often. To roast, remove lamb from bag and place in shallow roasting pan. Reserve 1 cup marinade for gravy, using remainder to brush on lamb during roasting.
Roast lamb, uncovered, at 325 degrees, 2 hours or until meat thermometer registers 160 for medium, 170 degrees to 180 degrees for well done. During last hour, baste often with marinade. Remove to serving platter. Allow to stand 10 minutes before carving.
Combine 1 tablespoon pan drippings and flour in small saucepan. Stir over low heat 2 minutes. Gradually stir in 1 cup reserved marinade and water. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and thickens. Serve with lamb. Makes 6 servings.
SCANDINAVIAN CROWN ROAST
1 (16-rib) crown roast
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup sliced green onions
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese
1 cup shredded carrot
1/4 teaspoon crushed bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon crushed marjoram
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 tablespoons Sherry
Cover top of ribs with foil to prevent burning. Place roast on rack in shallow roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Brown lamb in oil in skillet, stirring to break into bits. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic. Cook several minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
Blend in 1 cup Jarlsberg, carrot, bay leaf, marjoram, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, rice, almonds and Sherry. Fill roast with rice stuffing. Bake at 325 degrees 1 hour or until done as desired. Top with remaining cheese. Return to oven to melt cheese. Makes 8 servings.
Note: If desired, garnish with green onion slivers.
NEW ZEALAND LAMB ROAST
1 (5- to 6-pound) frozen leg of lamb
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons rosemary
Thaw frozen leg of lamb 1 to 2 days in refrigerator. Make incisions all over leg of lamb and insert garlic slivers. Rub lamb with rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Roast, uncovered, at 325 degrees to internal temperature of 160 to 170 degrees. If no internal thermometer is available, pierce meat to test doneness. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane