For many families, food can be so much more than simply survival. What we eat is a source of pleasure, comfort, and security. While food nourishes our bodies, it can also nourish our minds, families, and friends by evoking memories or creating new ones. Food is one of many crucial and persistent aspects of tradition and culture. All over the world, food is used to celebrate holidays, religious holidays, rituals, and family gatherings. For special occasions, what we eat often stems from the traditions that connect us to our history, our locale, and another. One of those traditions is preparing and eating lamb during Easter. In Italy, lamb has a significant role in their culinary tradition. In Christianity and Judaism, the lamb symbolizes sacrifice, while in Mediterranean regions, the lamb is considered a symbol of honesty and the fragility of life, especially for semi-nomadic populations.
This Easter, whether you wish to get back in touch with your family's tradition or try something a little different than usual, why not try lamb? If you've never cooked with lamb before, but don't know how to prepare lamb for Easter, let Wholey's guide you to a new, mouth-watering food experience!
1. Choose the Best Cut of Lamb
There are five basic parts of lamb to choose from when you want to select a good cut:
When cooking lamb, it's essential to understand the differences between each cut so that your dish turns out as you expected when cooked. Each cut of lamb is a different muscle, and each muscle cooks differently because some of these muscles are used more than others. Additionally, specific cuts of lamb will have less or more of what is often called a 'gamey' flavor. Gamey is a term that encompasses a substantial, wilder flavor of meat that is often lacking from domesticated animals like beef, pork, and chicken, for example. The gamey flavor isn't an issue for some, and for others, it is an acquired taste, or they don't enjoy it. The cuts of lamb that were found to have the more gamey flavors are:
• Shank and Shoulder (including roasts, chops, and stew meat)
• Leg (bone-in or boneless leg of lamb)
The milder flavored cuts of lamb are:
• Rack of lamb
• Rib chops
• Loin chops
The grassy and wild lamb flavor comes from the cut's level of branched-chain fatty acids (BCFAs), a compound found in the lamb's fat that gives it that wild flavor and aroma. If you aren't a fan of wild flavored meats, we recommend choosing less fatty cuts to reduce the amount of gaminess.
2. Try Bone-In Lamb
Many may decide to choose a boneless cut of lamb for an easier cutting or carving experience. However, we highly recommend going for the bone-in cut instead. While it's true a boneless roast will be easier to work with, without the bone, you'll be missing out on a piece of lamb that is packed full of more complex flavors. The bone within meat can create a massive amount of extra flavors, similar to making a great stock or broth using bone.
3. Don't Cook Lamb Straight From the Fridge
If you weren't yet aware—cooking any sort of meat taken straight from the fridge is not recommended. When cooking any protein, taking it out of the refrigerator and allowing it to come to room temperature, or at least until some of the chill wears off, will create a more evenly cooked, far juicier piece of protein. Cold meat takes longer to reach the proper internal temperature. Cooking chilled meat right away often means that when the inside comes up to the correct cooking temps, the outside is overcooked. When cooking lamb, many chefs and cooks will recommend removing it from the fridge and allowing it to rest on the counter for at least an hour or two, depending on the size of the cut. Larger cuts of lamb like the leg will take longer to come up to temperature than a loin chop. Even if you forget or find yourself not having enough time, 10 minutes will help take off some of the chill.
4. Don't Marinate it Too Long
Don't be discouraged from marinating lamb, as it is a fantastic way to infuse even more flavor layers into the meat. However, as with other meats, there is such a thing as marinating too long. Ideally, you should never marinate lamb or any meat for more than 24 hours. Marinades will quickly go from infusing the meat with flavors to breaking down the meat fibers, causing your lamb to become mealy and mushy. Keep an eye on the clock, and make sure to marinate the recommended time of the recipe you're following.
5. Always Season
When you're used to mild flavors like chicken, pork, and some whitefish, trying lamb for the first time might be overwhelming due to its naturally gamey taste. That doesn't mean you should avoid it entirely, but it does mean that you can adequately season lamb meat to counterbalance the wild notes of lamb meat to make it an enjoyable taste. Most herbs and spices work well with lamb, so you can have fun here and experiment with your favorite bold spices when it comes to seasoning. If you're unsure yet what to try. In that case, you cannot go wrong with traditional Mediterranean herb and spice combinations like sage, rosemary, oregano, garlic, and thyme—even curry powder if you have it.
Other Lamb Preparation Tips
• Trim your cuts of fat to reduce gaminess even further. Most BCFAs that cause that grassy flavor can be found within lamb fat.
• Discover how each different cut of lamb should be cooked. For example, you wouldn't cook a steak the same way you'd cook a brisket. Some cuts will be perfect for quick-cooking; others will do better low and slow.
• Remember that the longer you cook meat, the more it dries out. The best way to keep lamb tender and juicy is not to overcook. The official safe cooking temps for lamb steaks are the medium temperature of 145 degrees F. For medium-rare, 130 to 136 degrees. Experts don't recommend going over medium.
• Use a meat thermometer.
• Let the lamb rest after cooking for 10 to 15 minutes.
• Always cut against the grain for a tender lamb.
This Easter, we hope we've helped you learn how to prepare lamb so you can create a melt-in-your-mouth unforgettable family and friends meal."