Mary Ate a Little Lamb

To some, Easter is synonymous with jellybeans, chocolate and fake grass. Personally, I don’t need a holiday to dive into a mouthful—or 10—of dark chocolate, and I’d take Swedish fish over jellybeans any day. So when the Easter Bunny comes hoppin’ into town, I’m not dreaming of sweets, I’m dreaming of lamb, one of my favorite four-letter words.

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Envisioning a plateful of luscious, pink, supple, sweet and tender lamb, and the accompanying fragrance of rosemary and garlic has me salivating already. Whether it’s in the form of a chop, a rack or a leg, lamb is any cook’s greatest weapon to slay meat-eating guests. Its mild flavor takes to all types of seasoning, making it a popular ingredient in many ethnic cuisines.

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Lamb is not an exotic ingredient; most restaurants offer it in some form these days. But there are still plenty of people out there who are not familiar with its flavor and versatility. Here’s a little primer:

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Baby lamb: Lamb that is slaughtered at about six to 10 weeks; milk fed.

 

Boned, rolled and tied: Refers to a leg or shoulder that is boned, its internal fat removed and some outer fat trimmed off; ideal for a rotisserie or roast.

 

Butterflied leg of lamb: A boned leg that is removed of all excess fat. When spread flat on the cooking surface, it resembles a butterfly and provides a natural range of doneness: the thickest portion being rare, the middle medium, and the thinnest portions well done.

 

Crown roast: Made by curving around two rib halves, eight ribs each (racks), and tying them to resemble a crown, then frenching the ends of rib bones.

 

Frenching: A term describing the removal of 1 1/2 inches of meat from the bone ends of a rib roast or rib chops.

Denver ribs: Lamb sparerib cut from breast, and trimmed of fat and connective tissue.

 

Mutton: Meat from animal that is more than 2 years old; rarely available in the U.S.

 

Oven-ready leg: Hipbone has been removed from leg, and has been netted or tied.

 

Pre-sliced and tied shoulder: Square cut shoulder contains four or five ribs. Two 1-inch thick round bone chops are removed. It is then sliced (blade bone side) into 3/4-inch chops, put together and tied with two strings.

 

Rack of lamb (rib roast): Contains rib bones, backbone and meaty rib eye muscle. Outside fat is usually removed.

 

Saddle: Large cut of lamb that includes the loin section. The fore saddle is the front of the lamb up to the 12th rib. The hind saddle is the rear half of the lamb from the 13th rib back.

 

Saratoga roll: Boneless center roast in blade portion of shoulder.

 

Sirloin: The section between the hipbone and the back of the loin. Typically presented boneless and trimmed of excess fat.

 

Spring lamb: Usually slaughtered at 3-5 months old; milk fed.

 

Of course, what you really need to know is where to buy good-quality lamb. That’s easy: Some of the best lamb in the country comes from Jamison Farm in Latrobe, praised for its superior taste and tenderness. John and Sukey Jamison have been raising lamb for more than two decades, producing 5,000 lambs annually. The process includes intensive rotational grazing techniques to maintain healthy, sustainable pastures, and requires no plowing, planting or fertilizers. In addition, Jamison Farm is one of the few lamb producers in the country that manages its own processing, and in case anyone is feeling a wave of animal rights activism, Jamison is certified humane for raising and handling of its animals. 

A visit to the farm is on my to-do list, as well as getting an interview with the Jamisons. A dish is only as good as the ingredients used to prepare it; if you are making lamb this Easter, this is your ticket to edible bliss. If you can’t hook that up, Ivan Heebner Meats (610-687-0307) at the Farmer’s Market in Wayne has been my most reliable source for butterflied legs since I moved to the area. I haven’t tried any from Main Line Prime (610-645-9500; mainlineprime.com), but if Derek Davis is doing his job right, he’s surely got his own stash of Jamison or other specialty farm-raised lamb in the house.

 

You can learn all about Jamison Farm at jamisonfarm.com. But if you’re in a time crunch, here are a couple of recipes from the website. Traditionally, a roasted leg of lamb takes center stage at the Easter table, but if you are only having a few guests, this recipe for rib lamb chops should be a savory substitute.

 

Herb-Crusted Rib Lamb Chops

The breadcrumb coating recipe makes enough for 12 single rib chops or two racks of lamb.

 

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 slices bread)

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed thyme

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

12 rib lamb chops

1/2 cup lamb broth or water

Mix the breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper and thyme with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Dip the chops in the broth or water, and pat the crust on both sides. The chops can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated for a few hours.

 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a grill pan or sauté pan. Cook over high heat for 4-6 minutes per side, until medium-rare on the inside and crusty on the outside.

Makes 3-4 servings.

 

Variation: Crusted Rack of Lamb

 

You will need 2 racks of lamb, bones frenched and cap removed (ask the butcher to do this). Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

 

Combine the ingredients from the previous recipe to make the crust. Press the mixture evenly over the top of the racks. Place them in a roasting pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings, 1/2 rack per person.

 

Roast Bone-In Leg of Lamb

For a boneless leg, allow 15-25 minutes more for roasting—the boneless cooks at a slower rate. The sauce is optional; reserve some of the mustard mixture to make it.

 

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 leg of lamb, 3 1/2-4 1/2 pounds

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme or rosemary

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and fresh coarse-ground pepper, to taste


For the sauce (optional):

 

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