Our digital and social media producer Rachel Rohr is back from a month-long trip cross-country, talking with young Americans.
With the weather getting warmer, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst is thinking lamb.
As she tells host Jeremy Hobson, “in the world of meat, nothing says spring more than lamb.” But she adds, U.S. lamb sales are far below those of chicken, pork or beef.
Gunst shares tips for cooking lamb, along with four recipes:
The best way to tell if lamb is properly cooked is to take its internal temperature. These temperatures are for the final cooking temperature, which means you want to take the meat out of the oven when it is 5 to 10 degrees below the desired temperature because the meat will continue to cook once it’s been removed from the oven:
Best cuts for roasting lamb:
How much meat per person?
Kathy’s Note: Ground lamb is mixed with aromatic spices and yogurt, formed into small meatballs, and cooked in olive oil until crisp and golden brown. The meatballs can be made ahead of time and reheated in a warm 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until warm. The Spiced Yogurt-Mint Sauce can be made a day ahead of time. The recipe makes 30 one-inch meatballs, but can easily be doubled for a party.
Makes 20 to 25 one-inch meatballs
The Spice Mixture:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
The Spiced Yogurt-Mint Sauce:
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1 scallion, ends trimmed
1 cup Greek-style or whole milk yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons spice mixture, see below
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped, about ½ cup
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs, plus about ½ cup dried breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons Greek-style or whole milk yogurt
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Make the spice mixture: in a small skillet mix the coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds set over low heat. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn. Remove from the heat and place in a small spice grinder and grind, or use a mortar and pestle to grind the spices finely. Set aside.
Make the yogurt sauce: place the mint in the container of a food processor and pulse until chopped. Add the yogurt, salt, pepper, and 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the above spice mixture. Taste for seasoning; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The sauce can be made a day ahead of time.
Make the meatballs: in a medium skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Meanwhile in a large bowl mix the ground lamb, cooked onion/garlic mixture, mint, egg, 2/3 cup of the breadcrumbs, yogurt, salt, pepper, and 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the spice mixture. Use your hands or a spoon to mix all the ingredients so everything is fully incorporated.
Place the remaining 1/2 cup breadcrumbs on a plate. Use about 1 heaping tablespoon of the mixture to form each meatball; they should be about 1-inch in diameter. Roll the meatballs in the breadcrumbs, a few at a time, be careful to shake off any excess breadcrumbs, and place on a cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining meatball mixture and breadcrumbs, adding more breadcrumbs to the plate, if needed. You should have 20-25 meatballs. You can make the meatballs several hours ahead of time; cover and refrigerate
Make the meatballs: preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large skillet heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat. Test to make sure the oil is hot—a fleck of breadcrumbs should sizzle right up. Cook about 5 to 6 (or as a many as fit in the skillet without touching) meatballs at a time for 7 minutes, turning them from side to side until they are golden brown on all sides and cooked through (cut one open to check—go ahead an d eat it if it’s cooked through with no sign of pinkness). Drain on paper towels and repeat with the remaining meatballs. Place the drained meatballs on a cookie sheet and place in the warm oven to keep hot. You shouldn’t need any excess oil but if the skillet seems dry add another tablespoon of oil. Repeat with the remaining meatballs and serve hot with the yogurt sauce on the side.
Kathy’s Note: This recipe takes advantage of the natural affinity between figs and lamb. The meaty flavor of lamb seems to bring out the savory, meaty essence of fresh figs. Try to make this dish in the late summer-early fall when fresh figs are available. But you can also make the dish year-round, using dried figs; see note below.
Serves 4 to 6
One 5-pound leg of lamb, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
10 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons
¼ cup soy sauce
1 cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons grated or chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Generous grinding black pepper
24 shallots, peeled and left whole, or 16 small onions
1/3 cup good-quality honey, preferably an herb-flavored honey (see page 00)
12 fresh figs or 12 dried figs*, ends trimmed
*If using dried figs, cut the figs into quarters. Place the figs in a bowl and cover with ½ cup red wine and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar for about 15 minutes to an hour. The figs will soak up the wine and take on its flavor, and the figs often tough texture will soften.
Place the lamb in a roasting pan, fat side up. Make several small slits in the skin using a small sharp knife. Insert the thin slivers of garlic into the slits. Place the whole garlic cloves around the roast, and into any crevices you find on the meat. Pour the 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar, and the soy sauce, wine, and olive oil over the meat and sprinkle the ginger, rosemary, salt, and pepper on top. Cover, refrigerate, and let marinate at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. If using marinated dried figs, tuck them under the roast. The meat juices will drip on the figs, making them unbelievably flavorful. If using fresh figs, cut them in half and place in a small bowl, cover with the remaining 2 tablespoons of vinegar and let sit for 20 minutes. Scatter the shallots around the lamb. Roast the lamb on the middle rack, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
After the lamb has roasted for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and baste. Using a spoon or a pastry brush, spoon the honey onto the lamb. Place the fresh figs onto the honey, pressing very lightly to make them stick. Roast another 45 minutes to 1 hour and 20 minutes more, or until the internal temperature of the lamb is 125 for rare and 135 for well done (depending on the size of the roast). The lamb will continue to cook when removed from the oven, so be careful not to overcook it.
Let the meat rest, loosely covered with aluminum foil, for about 5 to 10 minutes before carving. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan, removing any excess fat floating on the top. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the temperature to low and simmer 5 minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavors.
Serve the lamb in slices, topped with the reduced pan juices, figs, and shallots.
Kathy’s Note: This is one of the great ways to use leftover roast lamb. Serve topped with poached eggs, and accompany with toast.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 cup cooked and diced potatoes
1 cup roasted (leftover) lamb, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
About 2 tablespoons leftover gravy, if you have it
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash hot pepper sauce
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
In a medium sized heavy skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onions and scallion and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes. Add the potatoes, lamb, thyme, and gravy and cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce and half the parsley and cook, pressing the mixture down with a flat spatula into the pan to create a kind of pancake. Let cook until the edges look crispy and, using a large, flat spatula, flip the hash over. Press down again to form a pancake. Cook another few minutes, or until the hash is crisp and golden brown. Serve sprinkled with the remaining parsley.
Kathy’s Note: Ask your butcher to French-cut the lamb chops so there is a long rib without any meat, making it easy to hold the chop by the bone. The lamb bone acts like a lollipop stick. Be sure to make enough chops so everyone can have at least one.
1 tablespoon dry rosemary
½ tablespoon dry thyme
½ tablespoon cumin seed
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
Dash red chile flakes
Dash sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
8 Frenched lamb chops
Place the rosemary, thyme, cumin seed, fennel seed, chile flakes, salt and pepper in a spice grinder and coarsely grind. Alternately, if you don’t have a spice grinder, ground them using a mortar and pestle.
Pat a very light sprinkling of the spice mixture onto each side of the lamb chop, patting it onto the meat so it adheres and place the chops on a broiler pan or in a large ovenproof skillet. (The chops can be coated with spices, covered and refrigerated, for several hours before cooking.)
Preheat the broiler placing the rack about 8 inches away from the heat. Broil the chops for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness, for medium-rare meat. Remove from the oven and let cool for a minute. Place on a serving platter and pass with a pile of nice cocktail napkins.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And today is the first day of Passover. Easter is this coming Sunday, which means it is spring. And for some people, that means it is lamb season. HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst joins us in the studio now to talk all about lamb. Kathy, good to see you as always.
KATHY GUNST, BYLINE: Hi, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And lamb and spring do seem to go together very well.
GUNST: I would say along with chives and teas and asparagus, maybe artichokes. They are the symbol of spring. In the world of meat, there is nothing that symbolizes spring more than lamb.
HOBSON: And yet, all year round, lamb is not as popular as chicken, pork and beef in the U.S.
GUNST: This is true. Lamb sales are way beneath those three other meats. I think that a lot of people grew up with mutton, which is old lamb, which is super strong and unappealing and unattractive.
HOBSON: And they remember that.
GUNST: They remembered it and they never want to go back to it. But lamb is becoming much more popular, thanks to the trend of Middle Eastern cooking, all the focus on Middle Eastern flavors. Lamb is a very favored meat in the Mediterranean, throughout the Middle East, and people are starting to experiment with it more.
Just so you know what a fanatic I am, every year, there's a farmer down the street from where were live in southern Maine, and I buy a lamb from her, and I never know when it's coming. And there'll be a knock on the door. This will upset some people. Close your ears, vegetarians. But she knocks on the door and she has the entire animal slung over her shoulder. It's been cleaned.
HOBSON: That upsets me and I'm not a vegetarian.
GUNST: Well, you know, if you're going to eat it, you need to - so we buy an entire animal. And with a friend who is a butcher, we cut it into pieces and we freeze it and we eat year-round. The real point of the story is that it's very nice to know where your meat was raised and how it was raised.
GUNST: This is a lamb that had a really beautiful life and ate very well and therefore we eat very well all year.
HOBSON: You're starting to sound like an episode of "Portlandia."
GUNST: Oh, no.
HOBSON: OK. What about when you go into the store? Let's pretend like you don't have a lady that comes over to your house...
GUNST: Let's pretend.
HOBSON: ...and knocks on the door. What are you supposed to do...
GUNST: Wait. Are you telling me you don't have that lady?
HOBSON: I don't have that at all, no.
GUNST: It's called a farmer.
HOBSON: So let's say you go to the market and you want to get some lamb, well, what are you looking for? What kind of cuts?
GUNST: OK. Well, there are so many different cuts. The most popular cuts - and particularly around spring, for Easter and also some Jews do at Passover eat lamb though there's a controversy around that. Lamb is mentioned in the Bible and there are a lot of Jews who won't eat lamb at Passover if it's roasted. But if you braise it, if there's liquid added, then it's acceptable. There's a whole long explanation of that. But let's talk about that.
Lamb shanks, also called the shin, are really fairly inexpensive cut of meat. Delicious, delicious cut of meat on the bone. Braise it, which means it's cooked in a little bit of liquid very, very slowly until it just falls off the bone. And flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg and garlic and chili and pepper, and you could add apricot or prunes and nuts, and it becomes a very Moroccan style or Middle Eastern dish.
HOBSON: What about lamb chops? That's what I always see.
GUNST: Lamb chops, yeah, that's what we grew up on. It's the most expensive cut, absolutely delicious. There's the shoulder chop, which has some fat and gristle and is not the most expensive. There is the rib chop, which comes from the rack and includes the rib and the loin. And then there's the loin chops. Those are the really meaty, tender, buttery ones that come at the highest price. And those are fabulous sauteed or grilled or broiled. I mean, it's getting warm. A grilled lamb chop outdoors with a brushing of olive oil, some fresh rosemary, crack pepper. Nothing better.
HOBSON: What about when you have to cook it? What are you supposed to do?
GUNST: It really depends what cut. The leg of lamb, which is my personal favorite, there are two types. There's the bone-in, or there's a butterflied leg of lamb, where they remove the bone and the two flaps of meat resemble a butterfly. What I love to do with a leg of lamb that's been butterflied is to marinate it with fresh mint and garlic and red wine. Let it sit overnight. Then take it out of the marinade and throw it on the hot grill outdoor. Summertime, springtime, just - it's so delicious. It's all this very tender, flavorful meat. For a whole leg of lamb with the bone-in for Easter, you could rub it in garlic and good Greek yogurt, some paprika, a little bit of chili pepper...
HOBSON: Making kind of a little tzatziki sauce there.
GUNST: Exactly. What happens is that the yogurt creates a glaze. When you heat the leg of lamb, you want to start at a very high temperature, 450. And then put it down to 325 and you let it cook. There are a few things to keep in mind when you're cooking lamb. For very rare meat, you want to go for 125 degrees. Now these are temperatures that you use an instant thermometer. You put it into the thickest part of the meat and when the temperature reaches not the numbers I'm talking about but five degrees below them because meat will continue to cook once it's outside of the oven.
So it's really important. So if you want your lamb very rare or very pink, you want to shoot for 125 as the final temperature. So you want to take it out at 120. For medium rare, which is where I like it, 130 to 135. So that's a very good tip to know.
HOBSON: You're a medium rare person, not rare, for lamb?
GUNST: I don't like rare.
HOBSON: Hmm. OK.
HOBSON: It's OK. We'll allow you to come back anyway next time.
GUNST: Is this a personality flaw? Do we need to talk about this?
HOBSON: No, that's fine.
HOBSON: But, you know, some people like it a little more rare. That's all I'm saying.
GUNST: Another question a lot of people ask me, well, how much meat per person? When you're working with a bone-in leg of lamb, about three quarters to a pound of meat per person. A rack of lamb, depending on the size, about a half to a quarter of a rack per person. And with the boneless butterfly of lamb, about three quarters of a pound per person. Can I tell you something with leftovers?
GUNST: Like day after Easter, day after Passover. You take your leftover lamb and you make a hash, like corned beef hash but with lamb, so with potatoes and maybe some parsnips and the lamb and you cook it and you press it down and you make like a pancake and then poach an egg with some hot sauce and throw it on that lamb hash...
GUNST: Breakfast. You'll be very, very happy with that.
HOBSON: You know, hearing you describe all of these different ways of cooking lamb, I can't help think of the Greeks. They all sound like such Greek-style recipes in a way. And the Greeks love lamb.
GUNST: Absolutely. They adore it. And in fact, Greek Easter, which I believe falls on the same day as regular Easter...
HOBSON: This year, I think. It does. Yeah.
GUNST: Yeah. But what the Greeks do is they have whole baby lambs, and they will roast the entire lamb on a rotisserie spit. I was once invited to a Greek Easter, and the guy had it set up in his garage in New England. One of the most memorable meals of my life, but this entire lamb in this guy's garage on a rotisserie spit just being basted in garlic and olive oil with the crispy skin. I don't know why Americans don't embrace this meat more. It is so full of flavor. It's earthy. Maybe we like a more neutral-flavored meat, but lamb is something worth trying. Speaking of which...
GUNST: ...I made you something.
HOBSON: Oh, good. Yes. Finally. My favorite part.
GUNST: So these are lamb meatballs. I took coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and heated them and then crushed them so we have this great spice mixture. And then this is ground lamb and fresh mint. And that is a Greek yogurt, speaking of Greek.
HOBSON: OK. I'm going to just...
GUNST: Go for it.
HOBSON: ...dip it in the Greek yogurt here, OK?
GUNST: Absolutely. Greek yogurt with fresh mint and scallions and a little bit of hot pepper sauce. Really, really easy. Great light dinner with pita bread and some salad. Very Middle Eastern there.
HOBSON: The Greek yogurt really makes it.
GUNST: Isn't - it's so creamy. The thing about lamb, too, is that it's not that fatty. A lot of the ground lamb that you find in stores is really not very fatty at all but just enough to give it some flavor. And with these delicious spices - there's yogurt in that meatball as well. And then you roll them in panko bread crumbs and you cook them in olive oil, and you can do it all ahead of time and throw it into the oven. So another quick, very different holiday idea.
HOBSON: Do you think Americans are ever going to embrace lamb the way that they do beef or chicken?
GUNST: I would say time will tell. Probably not the way they do chicken and beef. But I think that lamb is an extremely healthy meat. If you learn how to cook it properly, you will fall in love with it.
HOBSON: Kathy, thanks as always.
GUNST: Thanks, Jeremy.
HOBSON: That's HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst, who is, by the way, a James Beard Award nominee for her work on this program. She's also the author of "Notes From a Maine Kitchen: Seasonally Inspired Recipes." And you can find Kathy's tips on cooking lamb and some recipes, including her lamb hash and those delicious lamb meatballs at hereandnow.org.
HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.