Chefs combine classic and modern techniques as lamb lands on more menus
Lamb’s not exactly the world’s newest protein—people have been eating it for more than 10,000 years—but it’s having a moment as diners warm up to meat options beyond beef, pork and chicken. Chefs across the country are responding, using choice cuts of lamb like those from Eagle Ridge in innovative ways while paying homage to classic techniques. Here, chefs with an affinity for lamb share their tips on making it fresh and delicious every time.
The first step in preparing lamb, according to Reinhart chef David Quick, is to appreciate just how delicate it is. Lamb’s tenderness—and lack of intramuscular “lightning strike” fat marbling—makes overcooking a risk.
“Go with the mindset that you have to cook it a little bit less, temperature-wise, than you would your average meats,” he says. “Overcook it and it becomes very tough.”
Quick’s advice: "Keep your cooking methods simple, using either quick, high-heat applications, or slow, long, low-heat applications.”
It’s worth figuring out, because with its unique flavor, lamb is one of the most versatile proteins in a chef’s arsenal.
“It’s fun to play with,” Quick explains. "Lamb takes to herbs like they’re meant for each other, but citrus notes also go well, as well as plain salt, pepper and garlic.”
Lamb’s recent rise in popularity is buoyed in part by diners interested in the environmental impact of their food choices.
“People are realizing that these creatures are fed on nothing but grass almost all the time, so they have a healthier diet and they reproduce faster than larger animals,” Quick says.
Recent trends for lamb dishes range from the primitive to the cutting-edge.
“Whole pit roasts of lamb are trending, along with classics like lamb racks and chops, and people are incorporating ground lamb into meatballs and patties,” he explains. “And one fun thing I’ve seen chefs in Atlanta make recently is lamb bacon from the belly, which is cured and smoked.”
At Le Chateau, an upscale French restaurant in La Crosse, Wis., chef and owner Tim Ewers appreciates the versatility of the bone-in split loin of lamb he sources from Eagle Ridge.
“The nice thing about that cut is you get the loin, which is attached to what everybody knows as the rack of lamb, but it’s further down so it doesn’t have the bones from the ribs,” Ewers explains. “That allows me to use two different products off one purchased product, and because it comes with the bone you can make a reduction for an amazing sauce.”
A fan of lamb in all forms, Ewers has several popular lamb dishes on Le Chateau’s menu. Lamb Wellington, for example, consists of medium-rare lamb loin with mushroom and spinach wrapped in a puff pastry.
“We also take that tenderloin and marinate it in a Moroccan spice, season it, skewer it on a stainless-steel skewer, grill it and serve it as a small plate in our lounge,” Ewers says. “It’s very versatile and we sell a lot of them.”