Once again during this pandemic, the result of placing an online order for groceries changed our dinner plans. In the mood for a lamb stew, I ordered three pounds of lamb shoulder; what arrived were two netted boneless legs of lamb. One was a little more than two pounds; the other, about one.
During these days of sheltering in place, avoiding crowds, and making the most out of what’s available at the supermarket, I’ve grown more flexible in the kitchen. This short post is one example of an old dog learning new tricks.
More often than not, when it comes to lamb chops, I opt for baby lamb chops cooked scottadito (Italian for burnt finger). Thin, lightly marinated chops are placed on hot grill pan, cooked on high for two minutes a side, and then served with a dollop of green sauce or pesto. I’ve written about them here.
Lately, however, I’ve been unable to procure these baby chops and have had to settle for thicker loin chops, which until recently weren’t turning out quite right for me. Because of their size, they were coming out either dry and over cooked or too rare and chewy.
To make room in our freezer, something that’s a much valued resource these days, I took out what I thought was a 3 1/2 pound lamb shoulder roast, which wound up to be 2 individual roasts. Originally, we had intended to use the lamb for Easter, but we needed the space.
The recipe I had chosen almost a month ago, “Tender Lamb Shoulder,” is from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients cookbook. In fact, it was watching him prepare this dish on our local PBS station that motivated me to purchase the book, which has already provided the source for several posts on Cooking from Books.
If you follow my blog, you probably know that I gravitate towards recipes that use a modicum of ingredients, require a minimal amount of prep, and deliver loads of flavor. The subject of today’s post checks all those boxes: 5 ingredients, 10 minutes prep, and a panoply of flavors.
I’ve always been a fan of Mark Bittman and his minimalist approach to cooking. Not only are his dishes easy to prepare, but the typically limited number of ingredients in his recipes makes for clean, rich flavors Read more
Once again, I have to attribute the origin of yet another blog post to my better half. A couple of weekends ago, we were watching an episode of “Lidia’s Kitchen” on our local PBS channel. As she was cooking, I remarked that my only disappointment with Lidia Bastianich’s show is her neglecting to provide exact measurements for key ingredients to a dish.
While I continue to maintain she does it to promote sales of the cookbooks on which her shows are based, Andrew more forgivingly attributes it to Lidia’s being a “q.b.,” or “quanto basta,” chef, an expression found in Italian cookbooks that means “just enough” or “as much as you think you need.” However, when he recently surprised me with a copy of Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking, which he “happened” to order after watching the aforementioned episode, I’m sticking to my “profit-motivated” position.
Looking through a number of recently acquired cookbooks, I came across a recipe for a Tuscan beef stew called peposo (peppery) owing to its liberal use (up to 6 tablespoons) of black pepper. As I researched the recipe both in my books and online, my mouth started to water. But the more I read, the more it appeared that this tasty dish was better suited for winter than early summer. So, I placed peposo on the back burner and began to search for a more seasonal recipe, which eventually led me to Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca’s insightful collection of authentic recipes, The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen.
I know that braised meat dishes serve typically as cold-weather fare, but I had some lamb shanks in the freezer that were reaching their use-by date. Moreover, since I usually prepare lamb for Easter dinner, I thought that Mario Batali’s recipe for “Braised Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Grapes” from his book Molto Batali was a good choice.
What I found interesting about the recipe was the absence of any herbs. So many lamb recipes use at least one, most often rosemary, but this had none. Even the seasoning was minimal: just salt and pepper. In addition, I was intrigued by the addition of red grapes at the end of cooking, which I thought would serve the same role as a mint sauce or red-currant jelly does with a lamb roast. I should perhaps note that until my husband mistook a garlic clove for a grape, I hadn’t realized that I had failed to stir in the grapes at the end of cooking. Consequently, I stirred them into the sauce after serving and then placed a few on each plate.
“Serve immediately. . .” When I read these words at the end of Lidia Bastianich’s recipe “Lamb Chunks with Olives” in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, I had second thoughts about preparing this dish—especially since it was for a first-time dinner guest. I didn’t want to be cooking after our guest arrived or while cocktails were being served, and now I wasn’t sure if this stew-like dish could be prepared ahead.
Moreover, an online review claiming that, although tasty, “the lamb was not tender,” gave me additional pause. While other recipes for stewing lamb shoulder called for up to 90 minutes of cooking time after browning the meat, Lidia’s recipe appeared to require only 45 to 50 minutes in total.
While paging through an old cookbook the other day, I came upon a printout of a recipe that I found in December 2006. Titled, “Roast Lamb for One,” it was Nigella Lawson’s recipe for roasting a single lamb shank, a perfect meal for the bachelor that I was back then and why I had tucked it away.
No longer single, however, I decided to double the recipe and make roast lamb for two. The only ingredient that I didn’t have was a red currant jelly for the finishing sauce, so I decided to check out the recipe online to see if any readers had suggested an alternative. That’s when I discovered that the recipe had received a considerable number of negative reviews that shared a common problem; in the words of one reviewer: “. . . just a burnt mess on the bottom of the pan and no juices left at all to make a gravy. The meat was nowhere near tender. . .”
Inspired by a recent post on Diane Darrow’s blog, Another Year in Recipes, last night I prepared its featured recipe, Braised Lamb Shanks with Rosemary. Because I had by accident left my rosemary at the market, I substituted fresh chopped thyme, supplemented by some herbes-de-Provence infused sea salt. Nevertheless, the dish turned out splendidly. The lamb was the proverbial fall-off-the bone tender and was smothered in silky, buttery onions. The deeply flavored braising juices were deliciously soaked up by some whole-wheat couscous.
Owing to time constraints, we didn’t take any photos until after the lamb was cooked. However, the photos we took come close to conveying exactly how good this braise was.
At the end of her post, Darrow wondered why lamb has become so unpopular in the US. Indeed, since the early 60s, when per-person lamb consumption was about 4.5 pounds per year, today it hovers around 1 pound. In the comments section, readers suggested several reasons ranging from lamb’s gamey flavors to its high price and even to its limited availability.
Like Darrow, I too am puzzled about lamb’s decline in popularity here. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, at home I was served more lamb than beef. A roast leg of lamb was often the main course of a Sunday supper; broiled lamb chops with lemon wedges were a frequent weeknight meal; and one of my favorites was my aunt’s lamb breast stuffed with eggs, cheese, and herbs.
Maybe with the arrival of the more affordable New Zealand lamb in our supermarkets we may see an increase in consumption. In any event, I’ll be posting plenty of lamb dishes here.