The season of spring lends its name to all manner of food. Spring onions, spring rolls, and especially spring lamb. Just coming into the market at this time of year, spring lamb is a succulent flavorful meat that fits in perfectly with this season of gentle dining. And spring lamb has a well deserved reputation for being far milder than its more mature associate, the tough old leg of mutton.
Let's take a look at the classic cuts of lamb and what they are best used for.
Lamb shoulder is a very flavorful cut, given the amount of work the shoulder muscles perform. The problem is there's just about as much bone as meat in this cut, and it doesn't trim up very easily. The solution is to slow cook a lamb shoulder with lots of vegetables and fragrant spices. That way the meat will just fall off the bone, all succulent and tender.
The lamb chop is a very familiar cut, and one of the pricier. Cut from the rib, they are usually cooked individually, often over a grill. If the rib is left intact, it's referred to as rack of lamb. My favorite preparation is to make an herbed paste of parsley, bread crumbs, garlic powder, and olive oil and slather it on the meaty side of the rack. Roast in gentle heat until the lamb reaches an internal temperature of about 145° for medium rare. You really do want a bit of pink in your cooked lamb, by the way.
The loin chop is a sort of mini T-bone. Two or three are good to serve one person. I like to pan fry these with lots of salt, pepper and garlic powder. De-glaze the skillet with a little white wine and chicken broth, and you're on your way to a nice simple sauce to moisten the little chops.
Lamb rump is a lean, boneless cut that can be roasted whole, cut into steaks, or cubed into stew meat. It doesn't have a lot of fat, so you need to carefully avoid over-cooking it. Try pan frying it whole to get a good crisp crust, then finish it in the slow oven until you get to the 145° mark.
Leg of lamb is a classic cut, and is synonymous with a great spring feast. This is where the age of the animal matters, since anything over one year old is labeled as mutton...and we have our opinions about mutton. You can roast or grill a leg of lamb whole, with the bone in, or have it de-boned and butterflied. The latter makes it ideal for stuffing and rolling up into a roulade. Either way, this is when you want to bring out the garlic and the rosemary, the best seasonings for lamb.
The lamb shank is one of Al's favorite cuts. Taken from low down on the leg, the shank has a lot of collagen built into it, which when cooked gives the meat a juicy lip-smacking quality that is quite satisfying. This is a tough piece of meat, so you want to braise it long and slow, with a very flavorful braising liquid featuring carrots, parsnips, onions and of course, garlic.