Lamb is often thought of as a springtime food and its variety of cuts can be prepared in many different ways. To adequately prepare you for spring this year and encourage you to try new recipes, we spoke with Gianni Scappin, chef-instructor and co-author of the new cookbook Italian Cooking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America, and asked him a few questions about cooking with lamb. (Plus seven new lamb recipes at the end.)
What are some classic flavor pairings with lamb?
Citrus, mint, Italian parsley, garlic, wine, beer, dry fruit, raisins, plums, apple, pear, curry, cumin… different sides such as polenta, couscous or fregola (sardininan couscous), artichokes, potatoes, peas, peppers, baby carrots…
What are some more modern and unconventional pairings with lamb?
Chocolate, coffee, orange juice, vanilla beans, sambuca, gnocchi (which can be made of semolina, potato, bread, corn, etc).
When using New Zealand or Australian lamb, keep in mind that it tends to have a much milder flavor than domestic or local ones. If buying frozen, especially when it comes to chops or any tender cut of meat, it tends to overcook very easily if you are not extremely careful. So serve them as soon as they are done cooking or as soon as possible. If serving lamb leg or loin medium rare, cook until the desired internal temperature is reached; then let it rest as it will carry over a bit and will re-distribute all the blood throughout the meat making it more flavorful and tender.
Rule of thumb: Most of the time, tough and cheaper cuts of meat need to be braised or cooked very slowly at low temperatures until fork tender (shank, part of the leg, shoulder, etc.). From the leg if you remove the top round and slice it thin, you can grill or sear it quickly. Try to serve it rare or medium rare and avoid overcooking it (it is a very lean piece of meat). Flavor wise, I love the lamb loin chop instead of lamb chop, it has much more flavor in my opinion, but people tend to like lamb chop better… For lamb loin chop try to marinate it before cooking (always medium rare if possible), especially if local or domestic.
The Italian word brodettare means to cook pieces of meat in its own broth with aromatics. Usually and typically done with baby lamb or young and small lamb. This is also a good technique to “braise” lamb in using this sequence: olive oil, onion, parsley, little garlic, fresh thyme, lamb cut in small pieces, a little liquid, cover and cook until fork tender, simply served with some potatoes and baby carrots (which can be added towards the end in the same pot).
What are some little known or lesser used cuts of lamb that you think people should start using more?
Lamb shank, or lamb ossobuco, any part of the leg top round removed, cut into stew (small pieces and stewed), lamb loin chop (which people do not use enough and not to be mistaken with lamb chop). Shoulder can also be very good if properly marinated and then stewed.
Top round bought individually and then thinly sliced can be pounded, sprinkled with a small amount of a mixture of toasted bread crumbs, raisins, pecorino, pine nuts, mint, thyme, and then folded or rolled and then sautéed and braised or simply grilled and served.