Add lamb to Easter meal repertoire

When she came west to work at Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas, Christina Wilson noticed that people here don’t seem to eat as much lamb as Easterners do. And she thinks she knows one reason.

“Hunting season is huge back home,” said Wilson, a native of New Jersey and Season 10 winner of “Hell’s Kitchen.” “I was eating pheasant and duck when I was 6, 7 years old, so going to lamb wasn’t a big jump. I loved and craved that gaminess.”

But local chefs are quick to point out that the flavor of lamb is more mild than some might think.

“I think some people might have the preconceived notion that it’s gamy, and so people tend to stay away from it,” said Joe Kudrak, executive chef at Red Rock Resort. “My suggestion for that would be domestic lamb, especially from Colorado. It tends to be not as gamy as the Australian or New Zealand lamb would be.”

And someone who’s a little reluctant to try lamb may be thinking of its flavor in the past.

“Times have changed and the way the animals are raised, they don’t have that sharp bite that they used to,” said Michael Demers, executive chef of M Resort. “And the meat itself is coming from an animal that’s less than a year old. It’s very tender.”

On the other hand, if you are indeed looking for a bit of gaminess, look to Australian or New Zealand lamb.

“It’s a little bit grassy, almost,” Wilson said. “You know how cheeses can be that way — you get a good grassy cheese? You can kind of tell what the animals’s eaten by the way it tastes. New Zealand lamb has a little bit more earthiness and grassiness. For some, that might be the stronger flavor they’re trying to avoid.”

All three chefs say lamb dishes are increasingly popular in their restaurants. At Gordon Ramsay Steak, Wilson said, one good seller is a duo of shepherd’s pie and a lamb chop.

“It’s hard to stand out next to Gordon’s beef Wellington,” she said. “Our beef selection is pretty strong. For us to sell the amount of lamb that we do … well, when you’re in a steakhouse and you’re ordering lamb, you either really love lamb or there’s something about the dish that entices you to order it over 10 different steaks.”

At Red Rock, Kudrak said, T-bones Chophouse plans to serve an Easter Sunday special of lamb osso bucco with parsnip puree and crispy leeks.

He and Wilson said that if you’re a newbie at preparing lamb, they’d suggest approaching it in a way similar to how you cook beef.

“You’re going to use different methods for different cuts,” Wilson said. “Take your beef cooking techniques and apply it to lamb. You’ve handled these cuts before.”

“It could be a little bit leaner,” Kudrak said of the lamb, “but you’re going to have the tenderness.”

Both of them have seasoning suggestions.

“I really love cumin and coriander with lamb, when I’m grilling it,” Wilson said. “When I braise lamb shanks or short ribs I always use cumin and coriander — not to overpower it, but just to bring out the natural flavors of the lamb.”

Kudrak suggests a marinade with rosemary, other fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil.

“Inject some flavor into it so it complements it,” he said.

And Demers has some straightforward tips for preparing a leg of lamb.

“When they buy the lamb, make sure it’s a nice, bright pinkish-red color,” he said, “and the fat is white and firm, not too soft. Rinse it under cold water. Lightly coat it with olive oil, using your hands. Sprinkle with kosher salt and ground black pepper. Cut garlic cloves in half, lightly pierce the meat and stick the cloves in. Do the same thing with fresh rosemary sprigs.”

“It’s very simple,” he said. “I don’t think you have to do anything else.”

Well, except cook it, of course. Preheat the oven to 325 to 350 degrees, he said, and put the chef’s classic mirepoix mixture of celery, carrots and onions in the bottom of a roasting pan. Because of his Sicilian grandparents, he also likes to add about a cup of tomato juice and a little bit of water. Add some potatoes, if you want.

Then roast it, about 20 minutes to the pound for boneless cuts, until the meat reaches 130 degrees. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Rack of lamb and crown roasts are prepared basically the same way, he said, for about 25 minutes per pound at about 375 degrees.

“And lamb loin chops — like little mini T-bones — those are really good,” he said. “Just season with salt and pepper, brush with a little olive oil and do them on the grill.

“We serve sirloin chops, which are from the leg. We cut them thin, just do a quick little Asian-style marinade. You can put those on the barbecue as well. Those are really tasty.”

But do yourself a favor and try to stay away from the mint jelly, a traditional accompaniment back in the ’60s.

“You still see people asking for mint jelly,” Demers said. “It kills me, that nuclear-green alongside the lamb, but it’s what some people are used to. We keep a jar in the restaurants, just to please our guests.”

LOLA’S LEG OF LAMB

1 boneless leg of lamb, silverskin removed

½ bunch dried Greek oregano

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

¼ cup kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper

Juice of 4 lemons

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Score the inside of the leg and the fat cap. Combine the oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper in a small bowl and rub onto both sides of the lamb. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together and pour half of it over the lamb. Roll and tie the lamb, place in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roast the lamb until it reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees, 2½ to 3 hours, basting it with the remaining lemon-olive oil mixture every 30 minutes. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, loosely tent with aluminum foil, and set aside 20 minutes before slicing.

Serves 12.

— Recipe from American Lamb Board

GROUND LAMB KABOBS

WITH DRIED FRUIT AND MINT QUINOA

2 pounds ground lamb

½ cup finely minced onion

6 cloves minced garlic

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Salt and pepper, to taste

12 skewers (metal or water-soaked wooden)

2 cups quinoa

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots (about 6 apricots)

1/3 cup chopped medjool dates (about 3 large dates)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl combine lamb, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt and pepper; mix until well incorporated. Form into 24 oblong patties; thread two patties onto each skewer.

Place quinoa in a 4-quart saucepan; rinse with cold water 3 times, changing water each time. After the third rinsing, add 3 cups water to quinoa. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes (quinoa should be mostly dry and slightly al dente). Remove from heat, fluff and cover to keep warm.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill skewers until just cooked through, 2 minutes per side (meat will be pink on the inside). (Skewers can also be cooked under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes until medium-rare.) Remove from heat; rest for 3 minutes.

Toss quinoa with apricots, dates, mint, cilantro, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve with skewers.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from American Lamb Board

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

WITH ROSEMARY POLENTA

6 (¾-pound) lamb shanks, trimmed

½ teaspoon salt (divided use)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided use)

2 cups diced onion

1 cup diced carrot

½ cup diced celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup dry red wine

1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added petite diced tomatoes, undrained

1 14-ounce can less-sodium beef broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon water

½ teaspoon cornstarch

Polenta:

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal

¼ cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle lamb evenly with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat a large, wide Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb and cook for 12 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove lamb from pan.

Add onion, carrot and celery to pan; saute 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add red wine; bring to a boil.

Cook 2 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates. Return lamb to pan; stir in tomatoes, beef broth and 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary. Bring to a boil.

Cover Dutch oven; place in oven. Bake for 2 hours, or until lamb is tender. Remove lamb from pan; set aside and keep warm. Add remaining salt and pepper to pan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until sauce is reduced to about 3½ cups (about 30 minutes), stirring frequently. Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Add cornstarch mixture to pan; cook 30 seconds or until sauce thickens, stirring constantly.

To prepare polenta, bring chicken broth, rosemary and pepper to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually add cornmeal, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium; cook 4 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in cheese. Serve immediately with lamb and sauce.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Cooking Light

HERBED LAMB CHOPS

WITH PINOT NOIR SAUCE

Sauce:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 pounds lamb neck stew meat or lamb riblets

1 pound onions, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence

4 1/3 cups pinot noir or other dry red wine

3 cups low-salt chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Lamb:

1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup finely chopped fresh thyme

¼ cup finely chopped fresh rosemary

¼ cup finely chopped fresh sage

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 1½-pound well-trimmed 8-rib racks of lamb, preferably frenched

For sauce: Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add lamb and saute until deep brown, turning occasionally, about 18 minutes. Using tongs, transfer lamb to bowl. Add onions, carrot, garlic and herbes de Provence to pot. Saute until vegetables are deep brown, about 8 minutes. Add wine and broth to pot; return lamb and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered 1½ hours. Strain into large bowl, pressing on solids in strainer to release all stock. Spoon off any fat from surface of stock; return stock to same large pot. Simmer until reduced to 1 1/3 cups, about 15 minutes.

Mix butter and flour in small bowl to smooth paste.

Whisk paste into stock. Simmer sauce until slightly thickened and smooth, whisking constantly, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Transfer to small saucepan, cover, and chill. Rewarm before using.)

For lamb: Stir fresh herbs and pepper in medium bowl to blend. Add 2 tablespoons oil and mix until herbs are sticking together.

Sprinkle lamb racks with salt. Firmly press one-third of herb mixture over rounded side of each rack to cover. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place on large rimmed baking sheet. Cover; chill.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.

Add one lamb rack to skillet, herbed side down. Saute until browned, about 4 minutes.

Turn rack over and saute until browned, about 3 minutes. Place rack, herbed side up, on rimmed baking sheet. Repeat, fitting remaining racks on same sheet.

Roast lamb until thermometer inserted into center registers 135 degrees for medium-rare, about 25 minutes.

Let lamb rest on sheet 15 to 20 minutes. Cut lamb between bones into individual chops. Arrange three chops on each plate. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

Serves 8.

— Recipe from Bon Appetit

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.

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