Make Grilled Lamb Your Summer Jam
For years, I thought lamb was only for special occasions. When I thought of lamb, I imagined perfectly Frenched racks and whole roasted legs (with the requisite side of mint jelly) sitting at the center of a lavish holiday spread. Lamb, I thought, was expensive and time-consuming, a treat to be enjoyed just once or twice a year.
How wrong I was. Like beef or pork, lamb is broken down into a wide variety of cuts, many of which are both affordable and quick to cook. And more importantly, properly prepared lamb is absolutely divine. “Lamb is probably my favorite of all the red meats,” says Brandon Blumenfeld, executive chef at Lawrenceville’s new TRYP Hotel. “The flavors are strong and don’t get lost…it’s succulent and rich and can be cooked using virtually any technique.”
And for summer, what better technique than firing up the grill? Lamb can be easily swapped for beef in your favorite recipes, adding that grassy, earthy essence so unique to lamb. And once you’ve mastered the basics, start exploring some of the less common cuts—grilled lamb tongues, anyone?
“When marinating, I like to go to my Middle Eastern roots,” says Monique Ruvolo, owner of Above & Beyond Catering and Café. She suggests an overnight marinade packed with seasonings like garlic, red curry, cumin, and harissa (a chili paste common in Middle Eastern cuisine). Lamb can stand up to big, bold flavors, so don’t be afraid to be heavy-handed with the spice jars.
Keep it rare
Commonly grilled cuts—like chops and riblets—are best when pink and rare. Avoid overcooking by bringing the meat to room temperature before grilling. If it’s cold, the lamb will take longer to cook through, meaning the outside will overcook before the inside is warmed. And most grill masters advocate a two-zone set-up for the best results. Keep one side of the grill scorching hot (gas on full blast or coals piled high) while the other stays cooler, allowing you to sear the meat quickly on the hot side and move it to the cool side for an even, gentle finish.
Start with burgers and kebabs
If you’re not sure where to begin your lamb-grilling journey, start with a simple burger. Ground lamb has a similar fat content to ground beef, so it can be substituted in your favorite burger recipe. If you’re still getting used to lamb, try a 50/50 blend with ground beef to temper lamb’s distinctive funk. Keep your burger pink in the middle, top it with tangy herbed yogurt, and serve it in a warm pita.
Shish kebabs are another great dish for the lamb newbie. You can often buy pre-cut lamb labeled “kebab meat,” or cut your own cubes from a lamb leg or shoulder. Marinate the meat for a few hours or overnight, then thread it onto skewers with onions, bell peppers, zucchini, or whatever veggies you have on hand. Throw the skewers on a super hot grill for a few minutes and serve with some rice or warm naan for an easy meal made for entertaining.
For sides and sauces, think light and bright
Braised lamb dishes often call for a sauce made from reduced braising liquid, but that’s a bit heavy for summer. Since lamb is naturally rich and fatty, pair it with bright, acidic sauces that cut through the fat. Ruvolo suggests raita or tzatziki (two traditional yogurt-based sauces), while Blumenfeld goes for a salsa verde heavy on the mint and parsley. Pomegranate seeds, pickled eggplant, and thinly shaved red onions are great toppings for grilled lamb tacos. And since the lamb should be the star, simple sides are often best: Rice pilaf or a mezze platter with olives, hummus and flatbread are all you really need for a complete meal.