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Lamb dishes to try

Lamb chops

Spring is the traditional time for lamb, and I find it a very welcome time of the year. I've had a lot of enjoyment cooking rack of lamb ribs and leg of lamb in the past, but this year I want to try a few new things. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino reminded me, there is a lot more to lamb than just lamb chops.

Speaking of lamb chops, you have at least four different kinds: cuts from the shoulder, sirloin, loin and the best known, the rib chops. In fact the famous rack of lamb ribs is the source of those small but delectable chops. The rack of lamb, with its 8 ribs, is fun and easy to prepare, but you have to carefully watch your cooking time to get the correct done-ness. You are shooting for an internal temperature of between 130-135°, best achieved by 10 minutes in a 450° oven, then 20 minutes in a much cooler 325° oven.

The other celebrated cut of lamb is the leg, which is best served roasted. In preparing the lamb you can go bone in, and retain the shape better, or lose the bone, which lets you butterfly the meat so you can stuff and roll it.

In working with your seasoning, you will doubtlessly become familiar with my favorite herb, rosemary; and its partner garlic. It's uncanny how well they marry with the lamb flavors. Quite often you will instructed to cut little slits into the fatty part of the leg of lamb, so you can insert your slivers of garlic and rosemary.

this roast responds well to initial high heat, and then a reduction to a moderate 350°.

If a rack of lamb is the epitome of elegance, a bag of diced lamb cubes is the opposite. But a pound of so of these 1" cubes is perfect for any number of lamb stew recipes and they are very affordable. I've also seen recipes for lamb pie, curries and spring-time lamb, vegetable and broth dishes.

Lamb shoulders are not hard to find, and they are a sizable portion of meat. As you can imagine the shoulder does a lot of work, therefore it is bursting with flavor. But hard work means tough meat, so you want to cook your lamb shoulder roast long and slow. Four to five hours is not unreasonable. Done properly, the roasted lamb shoulder meat should just fall right off the bone. The shoulder can also yield chops, which are quite affordable.

The lamb breast is actually the lamb's belly. Because it is a rather fatty cut, and it contains some ribs as well, the lamb breast is less expensive. Ideal for long slow cooking, most of the fat will melt away, leaving very succulent meat behind. Quite often the meat is cut away from the ribs, and rolled and tied to make a roast. In the mid-east the lamb breast is cooked with a stuffing placed between the layer of fat and the meat itself.

My current favorite cut of lamb is the lamb shank, and if you can master this relatively simple dish you will be dazzling your friends for years to come. Essentially, this is a matter of marinating and then braising. Once again, long slow cooking is called for, and it's difficult to overstate the fall-off-the-bone tenderness of the finished shank. The marinade and the subsequent sauce from the braising

process offer many chances for experimentation with seasoning, spices and braising liquids.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.