Spring is finally starting to feel like spring, and we are starting to sport the first new harvests of the year. This gives us a whole new set of options as we work out ways to celebrate this tender season. I told Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School, that I wanted to see if I could find any recipes for those two stalwarts of the season: spring lamb and spring onions.
Fortunately, the two are quite compatible and when served together they usually demonstrate the lighter side of cooking.
First a definition: so-called spring lamb is born in mid-winter and reaches 3-5 months in the spring. It is mostly milk-fed, but may have been weaned and turned out on grass. It is smaller, of course, and has a milder flavor than the big yearling lambs that come to market at other times. Woolsey Farm from Harford County is one of my favorite lamb producers.
Spring onions are those little white globes at the end of slender green stalks that are ubiquitous this time of the year. They are often confused with "green onions," another immature onion that flourishes in the spring. The spring onion's bulb is fairly large, the green onion has practically no bulb at all. The green part of a spring onion is pleasantly pungent and full of flavor.
The most frequent preparation for spring lamb and onions is in a stir fry.
The Internet has tons of recipes, most of which call for cut up shoulder or butt roasts, which are cheaper than a rack of rib or dainty little lamb chops.
Inevitably there is a marinade, sometimes two. Soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and various Asian condiments pop up all the time.
One recipe I found has you marinating the lamb, then cooking it in peanut oil in a wok. Meanwhile you have been marinating spring onions and carrots that have been sliced into very thin julienne strips. Toss those in the wok with some garlic and fresh green peas, then stir fry for just a couple minutes. Put the lamb and onions together for one last time around the wok, and you've got a wonderful dish cooked in its own sauce.
If actual spring lamb eludes you, there are sure to be larger legs of lamb available. Whole Foods has a recipe for roasted leg of lamb paired with spring onions, fennel and fresh mint. You start with a rub of sea salt, black pepper, garlic and fennel seeds, all ground up. Coat a well oiled leg of lamb with the rub, and pop it into a moderate oven for long slow cooking. You'll want to sauté up a batch of chopped up spring onions and fennel in a little white wine, and serve it on the side.
Also making an appearance around this time of year are asparagus and morel mushrooms. I adopted a recipe from Cookit Simply to incorporate all four ingredients in a stir fry. This one involves an interesting technique, cutting paper thin slices of lamb. The way to do this is to put the lamb into the freezer until it is just about frozen. Take it out and shave slices off the cut with a very sharp knife. You stir fry the lamb in the wok in the usual Asian sauce, then add cut up spring onions and asparagus. As a liquid forms in the wok, toss in the morels, sliced lengthwise for faster cooking. Serve with a side of scented jasmine rice and you have the essence of spring on a plate.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or dry sherry
salt and pepper
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soft brown sugar (optional)
Chinese five spice seasoning (optional)
Hoisin sauce (optional)
1. Combine ingredients in a bowl, then process briefly into a coarse powder.