Sunday, January 23, 2011
To be honest the idea of a lamb leg makes no sense to me. In culinary school you learn about moist vs. dry cooking methods. Lamb leg is one of the few cuts of meat that defy all culinary technique. Technically speaking a cut like a leg of lamb that is filled with pockets of fat and sinew should be cooked in a moist heat application like a braise, but we tend to roast it to a measly medium rare and serve it expecting it to be tender and moist. Not to mention I am not a big fan of mint jelly (a really old school accompaniment to lamb) or fresh rosemary (considered to almost be a lamb must-have). Most of the lamb you see at your megamart is gamey and crap. New Zealand or parts of Australia is where it is most often sourced which means it was harvested, stored, shipped, all the way across an ocean and a continent. Not necessarily what I look for as local meat. Colorado also produces a fair amount of lamb, and it is good, a tad less "gamey" and relatively easy to find. I just have always felt like if you want to get really serious about eating locally I needed a local lamb to provide to my customer base.
A lamb is a sheep that is under the age of 1 yr, but most are harvested around the age of 8-10 months. Anything older is called mutton, and mutton has a very aggressive flavor that your grandparents can maybe tell you about. They are harvested at around 65# max, and even much less. Typically lamb is very expensive, as it represents a life that only yielded a few pounds of the much sought after loin and leg. When was the last time you heard someone selling lamb sirloins? Some people just love it though, and while I wouldn't freak out if I never got to eat it again, good lamb goes a long way, and really good lamb will blow a customers mind.
My meat purveyor at work picks up a local product (whole animal) from a local grower, butchers and cuts it and then sells it. The farm is called "Atherton" and it is the absolute best lamb I have ever had. While it isn't on my menu at the restaurant I feature it as often as possible as the most local and sustainable lamb product available to me. To clean a lamb loin is a process and usually means at least a 30% loss of meat. The process of cleaning the bones is called "frenching" and refers to scraping any tissue and sinew from the bone, sometimes even wrapping the bone in foil so that once roasted the bone remains stark white. I like a good medium-rare for a lamb rack, or lollipop, but I would eat this lamb raw without a second thought as I absolutely trust its grower and harvester. And while I wont often get excited about lamb I will get excited about this stuff.
As for the leg, often it is bought in a bagged and tied form that makes me gag a bit. I just don't do very good with cuts of meat that are in a shape I am unable to identify with. When I buy this lamb I get to remove the bone myself and then tie it up as well. Usually I will apply a bit of a rub to it, and then roast it to a medium rare. While I said it is technically an injustice, it is the norm and can yield a very nice, tender cut of meat, great for a family gathering, especially in the spring when lamb are classically slaughtered. Look to lamb to bring a bit of elegance to a normal meal, that when purchased correctly, and cooked correctly can be a piece of meat to remember. This is a local lamb loin that was tediously "frenched" and then marinated in some herbs and red wine. It was seared and then roasted to finish, rested and then cut into chops for a high end party I was catering a few weeks ago, paired with a stone ground mustard. That is definitely some lamb I can get excited about.