Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Secret to Spring Lamb – Keep it Simple!

Lamb is sold year round, but is so much better in the Spring, that I only roast it in the months from April to August.  Lamb is young sheep less than one year old. The very best is “milk-fed lamb” which is from an un-weaned lamb, typically 4-6 weeks old. This is very hard to get as most Americans will not pay the price. Almost as good, and almost as rare is “baby lamb” - a milk-fed lamb between 6-8 weeks old. Most of us can get and enjoy “spring lamb” - a milk-fed lamb, usually 2-5 months old, born in late winter or early spring, fed on the first grass of the season and sold by summer’s end. Anything older than a year is no longer lamb, but mutton which has a gamey flavor. American lamb, usually corn fed, is generally milder in flavor than grass fed Australian and New Zealand lamb. In spring, the French love “Navarin D’Agneau”. It is composed of spring lamb and all the new spring vegetables (fresh peas, turnips, baby carrots, etc). making it is too work intensive to explain here, but I do know that it is being served in April at La Mangeoire in Manhattan and Stissing House in Pine Plains.  Here are six secrets to simply roasting spring lamb:
Secret #1/.
The most important thing to remember is to not over-cook it or over prepare it. Spring lamb has such wonderful flavor and is naturally so tender, that it will be good as long as it is still a little pink inside. I believe it a shame to muck it up with marinades that denature the meat. (That trick is for older lamb).
Secret #2/.
Lamb is best when cooked on the bone, basted with its own natural juices and served piping hot.
Secret #3/.
Like all meat, lamb should be at room temperature when placed in the oven.

Secret #4/.
Roasting (the cooking method of choice for large cuts of tender meat) is done in a shallow, uncovered pan, preferably with the meat raised slightly on a rack to allow heated air to circulate around it and au jus to be formed from the drippings.
Secret # 5/.
In general, a roast should have a crisp brown surface and a juicy pink interior. This is accomplished by searing the meat at high heat in the oven for about 10 minutes and then reducing to 350ºF. Cooking times (after the roast is seared) are: 10 minutes/lb for rare meat, 12 for medium-rare, 15 for medium, and 20 for well-done. My personal favorite is 11 minutes per pound which is for the rare side of medium rare.
Secret #6:

Allow lamb to rest, loosely covered with foil for 10 to 20 minutes after removal from the oven. This rest period minimizes the loss of juice and allows the meat to become a bit firmer, making carving much easier. Cooking will continue during the resting period so that internal temperature will rise at least 5º- 10ºF.
Serve with green beans, roasted tomatoes, zucchini au gratin or potatoes. You can find these recipes at my blog: Comments are appreciated at

Roast Leg of Lamb on the Bone (serves 6-8 people)
1 bone in leg of lamb
8 cloves organic garlic, halved
fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly ground organic black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse unrefined sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, sliced into long thin strips
At least 2 hrs before cooking, cut 16 slits, about an inch deep, all over the top and sides of the lamb. Push a piece of garlic into each slit, as deep as it will go. Lightly rub olive oil over the surface of the lamb and season with salt, pepper and rosemary.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Place the lamb on its rack in the roasting pan, fat side up. Roast the lamb for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, baste with the pan drippings, place shallots under the lamb and return to the oven. Cook for another 10 minutes. The drippings should begin to caramelize the shallots. Add ½ cup of water to the bottom of the roasting pan and mix with the shallots. Baste the lamb. Return to the oven, After 10 minutes remove the pan from the oven, baste with the pan drippings, and return to the oven. Turn the heat down to 300 degrees. Cook for another 30 to 50 minutes, depending on how you like your lamb - basting every 15 minutes and adding ½ cup water each time if needed to keep the juices liquid.  This liquid is what is called “au jus”. If you need more, just add some water and reduce.Spoon over meat and/or serve in a gravy boat.
Rack of Lamb (serves 6-8 people)
2 racks of spring lamb, frenched by your butcher. 
salt, pepper, olive oil

Rack of lamb is expensive but wonderful. You may need to order it from your butcher in advance. It is the eight lamb chops left together for cooking purposes and then cut into chops for serving. Cooking them as a rack improves the flavor, makes them easier to cook for a larger number of people, produces more rare or medium rare meat and makes a better presentation
Remove lamb racks from refrigerator 1-2 hours before cooking. Preheat oven to 400°F. Rub the racks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Score the fat, by making sharp shallow cuts through the fat, spaced about an inch apart. Sprinkle the rack all over with salt and pepper. Place the two racks standing up with the meat on the bottom and the bones crossing each other. Roast at 400°F for 7 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F. Cook for 8-12 minutes longer (until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat shows 125°F for rare or 135°F for medium rare). Remove from oven, loosely cover with foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Cut lamb chops away from the rack by slicing between the bones. Serve 2-3 chops per person.
Serve with:

Zucchini Au Gratin
3 lbs of zucchini
3 eggs (beaten)
8 oz Crème Fraiche (Vermont brand, I buy at Adam’s – or mix 4oz  of heavy cream with 4oz of sour cream). 
5 oz of grated Swiss Cheese
Butter, Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg
Rinse and dry zucchini (do not peal). Cut into large cubes. Cook in salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes. Drain and squeeze in a colander to remove excess water. Place zucchini in a buttered oven dish and mash with a fork. In a separate bowl mix beaten eggs, cream and ¾ of the cheese and some salt, pepper and nutmeg.. Add mixture to zucchini and mix with a fork.  Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Place in preheated oven (350F) until it is golden brown. (30- 40 minutes)

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Cherry, grape or small Plum tomatoesWhole cloves of garlic (One for every 4 tomatoes)Olive OilFresh Thyme
Preheat oven to 225F. Halve each tomato..(crosswise for round ones, lengthwise for long ones). Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the tomatoes cut side up on top with cloves of garlic interspersed amongst the tomatoes. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with thyme. Bake in the oven for 2hrs and 45 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

If you have only one oven, make the tomatoes in the morning and keep at room temperature (Tent with aluminum foil). Bake the zucchini au gratin (when cooled wrap with aluminum foil). While lamb is resting and being carved put the gratin and the tomatoes both back in the hot oven (350F)  and reheat before serving. 

Gerard’s wine suggestions:
La Gardonne, Medoc 2003 – majority Merlot, blackberry and cherry aromas follow through to a full-bodied palate, with silky tannins and a medium finish. $15.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor
Présidial, Bordeaux 2009 – 100% Merlot, blackberry with some mineral and floral character. Medium-bodied, with fine tannins and a clean, fresh finish. $18.99 @ Pine Plains Fine Wines – discount on quantity
Prieur de Meyney, St-Estephe 2005 – “majority Cabernet Sauvignon, this is the second wine from Chateau Meynet. A great red with structure and finesse. $22.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor
Bourgogne Pinot Noir Laforet 2007, Joseph Drouhin – « the hue has usually a brilliant ruby-garnet color. The nose offers effusive aromas of crushed berries. On the palate, the wine is full of charm and very pleasant to drink : fresh and fruity - $14.99@ Arlington Wine & Liquor.
Nuits St Georges 2006, Nicolas Potel – “this is very “Nuits” in character with an intensely wild nose of earthy and lightly spiced crushed dark berries. Rich, full and admirably fresh flavor underpinned by good energy on the delicious, serious and sappy finish that is firmly structured. Exceptionally priced for Easter at $39.99 instead of $52.99 @ Arlington Wine & Liquor

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