Move Over Ham: Easter Lamb 101
Ham: Baked, smoked, spiral, glazed and more, it's usually the centerpiece of the Easter table (and it is delicious). But what about lamb? Why does it usually take a back seat when certain cuts of the meat tend to be so forgiving? Skipping the ham and introducing something new to the table might cause an uproar, but serving lamb is highly encouraged — at least make it a new addition alongside the ham. So where do you start? We asked chef and butcher Adam Sappington of The Country Cat Dinner House and Bar in Portland, Ore., to start us off in the right direction.
The most-common cuts of lamb used around Easter are definitely legs (like the Herbed Leg of Lamb by Food Network Magazine pictured above) or chops. He states that, "As the weather warms up, folks tend to move away from heavy braising cuts like shoulder and start looking for leaner cuts that give off that essence of spring grasses." For an Easter celebration, Adam recommends using a leg of lamb — it's the easiest and most forgiving to cook, the most versatile, arguably the most traditional and it can be altered to feed small parties or large gatherings. This Grilled Leg of Lamb With Creamed Peas and Wild Mushrooms is perfect for family gatherings, as it is a showstopper but wont break the bank.
When purchasing a leg of lamb from the local butcher or your neighborhood grocery store, ask for one that is roughly one week old. This guarantees the meat has had time to rest and will have the most flavor. If you are opting for chops instead, it is important to ask for ones that are fresher. Chops do not have the fat content a leg would have and thus spoil faster. Quick tip: The longer you are able to keep meat on the bone, the longer it will last and the more flavor it will have. If you are concerned your butcher will not have what you are looking for, go in as early as you can and order it a head of time. Remember, the butchers are there to help you get exactly what you want, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions: “How much leg of lamb should I get to feed X number of people?” or “Would you mind cutting this leg of lamb into loin or steaks to serve X people?”
The biggest mistake Adam sees in cooking lamb (or cooking meat in general, for that matter) is that folks tend to overcook their meat and they do not let it rest. Resting is key and will ensure that your meat does not dry out. Investing in a meat thermometer will guarantee perfect results every time, as lamb should be pulled at 135 degrees F for rare or 140-150 degrees F for medium-rare. After your meat is pulled from the heat, let it rest for approximately five minutes or until it is pliable and cool enough to handle.
When asked why Americans tend to hesitate when cooking lamb, Adam said he believes: "Unfortunately, Americans are simply not educated enough to choose lamb as a regular protein. They lean towards beef and see lamb as an ethnic food when, in realty, lamb can be substituted in the majority of our most-common beef dishes. If you are new to cooking lamb, try this outstanding recipe for Grilled Leg of Lamb With Creamed Peas and Wild Mushrooms this Easter holiday. It's easy to make, and the comforting flavors are sure to launch you straight into spring while showing how approachable lamb really is."
There are so many ways to bring lamb into your home kitchen year round. Try incorporating it into a ragout to serve over pasta, or try serving it ground over rice or even in a dumpling.
Get more lamb recipes for Easter:
- Food Network Magazine's Herbed Leg of Lamb With Roasted Turnips