Setting the Record Straight on Lamb
Lamb is a staple in the diets of many cultures including India, Greece, Spain, France, and countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Americans, however, eat far less lamb on average than people from these other countries. Lamb is often thought to be strong and gamey in flavor, and while this is often true, that is characteristic more of older lamb--over 12 months of age. The majority of the lamb sold in the U.S. comes from animals between 5 and 12 months old and while distinctive in flavor, is typically not too intense or overwhelming.
Selecting the Perfect Lamb
Lamb should be bought when it is light red and fine grained in appearance. Older lamb, or mutton, has a darker, purpler hue and is much more pungent in aroma and flavor and the meat is tougher. Lamb should never have an unpleasant odor and the fat on lamb should always be white, never yellow or brownish. The ends of the bones on lamb should appear moist, red, and porous and not brown or dried and crusty.
Lamb is sold in many different cuts. The rib and loin produce the tenderest meat, which should be cooked over high heat for a short amount of time. Other tougher cuts, such as the shoulder and leg, hold up well when being braised or stewed, but lamb is such a small animal that most of the meat is tender enough to be cooked with a dry heat method. Tender cuts of lamb are at their best when cooked to no more than medium and are ideal in flavor and moisture when served at a temperature closer to medium-rare. Obviously, tougher cuts cannot benefit from being served at this temperature. Ground lamb is as popular in many other cultures as ground beef is in the U.S. It is used in everything from meatballs to patties and is incorporated into many dishes along with flavorful grains and vegetables.
Because of its robust flavor, lamb lends itself to numerous preparations and accompaniments. Greek style lamb is typically prepared with strong, savory flavors such as garlic, rosemary, lemon, and coarse sea salt. Lamb prepared in North Africa, however, is often served on the sweeter side and accompanied by such things as prunes, dried apricots, and honey. Lamb is extremely versatile and, with some creativity and good planning, can be transformed into a truly delicious and memorable meal that is sure to win over even the most skeptical.
Recipes for Cooking Success
For more detailed instruction and inspiration for cooking lamb, check out the recipes to the right!