Lamb is widely eaten around the world, but here in America, most people eat a fraction of the lamb that diners consume in other countries. It’s ironic considering that American-raised lamb has so much flavor thanks to its fat content. But amid rising commodity beef prices as well as the interest in grass-fed beef and nontraditional cuts of meat, lamb has found itself in the center of the plate. Lamb is a protein most people won’t cook at home, so they look to professionals for a refined, elegant preparation. Here’s how to maximize lamb’s increased interest with an eye toward better price points by showcasing this promising meat on your menu.
New Zealand/Australian vs. American
Lambs from Down Under and lambs from the U.S. differ in flavor, size, and price. The animals from Australia and New Zealand are smaller. They graze on grass their whole lives, resulting in a gamier, earthier flavor and lower fat content. The U.S. lambs are larger, fatter, and sweeter. They eat grass for most of their lives and 30 days before slaughter, their diets are supplemented with grain. This produces a richer flavor – similar to a steak, making American lamb pricier than its New Zealand and Australian counterparts.
Exploring the Different Cuts
The most familiar cut is the chop, which comes in many shapes and sizes depending on what part of the animal it comes from. Sirloin chops are large and meaty. Loin chops are lean, tender, and known for their pretty T-shaped bone. They are typically grilled, broiled, or fried.
Another familiar presentation is the luxurious rack, a staple of fine dining restaurants. This is lamb’s answer to beef’s prime rib because it’s the same muscle and set of bones. They can be frenched, in which meat is scraped from the end of the bones, or served as a crown roast, where two frenched racks are tied together.
The budget-friendly lamb shanks, which come in foreshanks and hind shanks, fall off the bone when they are slow-cooked, making it a popular ingredient in ragus. Braise this meaty cut slowly in broth to capitalize on the flavor.
The leg of lamb can be boneless or bone-in. The shank end legs start just above the lamb’s ankle and go midway up the calf bone, while sirloin end legs start at the hip and stop at the knee. The meat is fattier and more tender at the sirloin end, whereas the shank end has more flavorful meat. The versatile boneless leg of lamb can be roasted whole or broken down into chops or roasts. It can also be butterflied, making for an impressive presentation.
Enhancing the Flavor
When cooking lamb, the sweet spot is medium rare to medium. At medium rare, the meat has begun to turn pink and is more tender and moist. The fat is fully rendered at medium, producing rich flavors. Any higher and that lamb is hammered.
Lamb has such a rich and robust flavor profile that makes it prime for creative applications. It happily works with all kinds of spice mixes and aromatic combinations, from a traditional blend of garlic and rosemary to cumin and fennel. On-trend spicy North African ingredients such as harissa work well with lamb as well as a marinade of peppers, garlic, and onion that can give lamb a more Latin spin. Creating a crust will impart more flavors; try a Parmesan and breadcrumb mixture or mustard and herbs.
With its versatility and rich flavor, lamb deserves another look. Try incorporating it into your menus to tantalize
guests looking for an alternative to the old standbys of beef or chicken.