I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how lamb has slowly been gaining greater popularity in North America. Normally associated with Easter, I’ve had many followers indicate that they love to cook lamb in the summer on the grill as well as for holidays like Thanksgiving (yes, there are some that don’t do a turkey or add this protein to the dinner) and Christmas.
My intention today is to provide some guidance on the cuts of lamb, which work best for wood-fired cooking methods, and provide some flavor pairing suggestions to consider for your recipes. Know that my definition of lamb is a young sheep of fewer than 12 months of age.
Primal CutsThere are eight basic cuts of lamb: neck, shoulder, breast, ribs, loin, leg, foreshank, and shank. Immediately, I want you to understand that there is much less meat harvested from a lamb than on some other common animals. The reason is that lamb tends to be quite fatty and the fat is not something consumable like the current rage with pork. Once a lamb is harvested, trimmed of its fat, had non-edible parts removed, there is about 40% of its weight remaining in viable meat. Thus, lamb can be very expensive.
Let’s look at each of the cuts and provide some insight into the best methods of cooking each.
uncovered. This cut also works well when ground to produce lamb burgers and sausage.
two-zone cooking set up to prevent overcooking of the outside. Chops can also be produced from this cut but note that they cook quickly. I prefer to still use a two-zone cooking setup so I can move the chops from direct heat to indirect as needed.
grilling two-zone method will make these moist, tender and flavorful.
Flavor PairingsOne characteristic of lamb is its ability to stand up to other strong flavors whether in spice or herb form. Here are the top flavor pairings for lamb:
Almond: incorporate into a stuffing with rice
Anchovy: cuts slits into a leg or shoulder and insert drained anchovy into each cavity
Anise: a perfect addition to a casserole for infusion to the meat
Apricot: preferably used dry this is perfect with cinnamon, cumin, coriander
Cabbage: add potatoes and let it simmer with the meat
Cherry: adding onions, saffron, almonds, pomegranate, feta, mint, parsley, pistachio
Cumin: add chili and put on the grill
Eggplant: perfect if done kabob style over the hot coals
Goat Cheese: add spinach or kale and this is the perfect pairing for lamb burgers
Mint: likely the most well-known pairing which reduces the funkier undertones of the meat
Peas: add butter, onion, and tomato
Saffron: use this spice in rice to accompany the meat
With all these great flavor pairings, lamb should continue to grow in popularity and maybe will surpass one of our more common animal protein choices.
Do you have a favorite cut and preparation of grilled lamb? Share your thoughts and photos.
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