Monday, August 20, 2007

Lamb with Tomato-Fennel Vinaigrette

Why am I roasting leg of lamb in the middle of the summer? For one, there’s no grill in sight here on the 5th floor of condo-land. But tell me honestly—you don’t leave your oven lying dormant all summer do you? It’s just too easy to season up something tasty, pop it in, and let it roast completely unattended while you take care of whatever business needs taking care of.

The other reason for this lamb is that a representative for the American Lamb Board contacted me and offered to send me a leg of lamb along with some handy cooking necessities. I rarely get any offers of free goodies, and if I do I’m usually not interested. But, I love lamb. So does Mike. We already know this.

I usually buy lamb at Whole Foods market, and it is usually flown in from Australia or New Zealand. I’ve never had any complaints about this lamb from Down Under, and I thought that is where the best lamb comes from. Naturally, the American Lamb Board would like to raise the profile of their product. What I really wanted to know was what lamb tastes the best—foreign or domestic? I said I would happily accept the lamb, as long as they knew I was making no promise of reviewing their product, favorably or otherwise. Honestly, I expected the American meat to be more bland than imported lamb, lacking the grassy, gamey quality that makes lamb taste like itself. Even the Lamb Board's literature says the meat is "mild." We would have to find a way to negate this prejudice in order to do a proper evaluation.

We cooked the American lamb on two different occasions. First we tasted it right next to New Zealand lamb cooked in exactly the same manner and did a blind taste test. While both were delicious, but the one I preferred—the one that tasted most “lamb-y” to me—was the American meat. I was pleasantly surprised! Mike could barely detect a difference, and we both concluded that any quality lamb—cooked properly—is going to taste good.

For this first experiment, we made a marinade with cumin and honey from the June issue of Cooking Light magazine. The honey helps created a caramelized coating as the meat, skewered for kabobs, cooks under the broiler. I substituted dried marjoram and tarragon for fresh mint. Sure, it sounds like a stretch, but the licorice flavor of tarragon has an affinity for sweetness that really works here.

The tomato-fennel vinaigrette in the photo above is from the August issue of Bon Appetit. It is dead simple and makes a pretty, summery topping for lamb that has been marinated with garlic, rosemary, anchovies and fennel seeds. No matter where you prefer your lamb to originate, remember the most important rule of cooking lamb—keep it medium rare or 130 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Otherwise, the luscious lamb will go dry. We attempt to keep ours on the rare side of medium-rare, and are always rewarded. Here is the link to Bon Appetit's Tomato-Fennel Vinaigrette. I scaled this down to serve 4, and of course I roasted the meat instead of grilling it.

Have any of you lamb-lovers ever compared meat from different regions? Can you detect distinct differences in flavor or texture?

Here are some lamb recipes of all sorts from around the food blogosphere, including a few of my own...I found them using my new searchable recipe index (check it out!).

1) Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb from Simply Recipes
2) Walnut and Fig Braised Lamb from 80 Breakfasts
3) Grilled Lamb Kabobs from Christine Cooks (she's another lamb-lover!)
4) Braised Lamb Shank (one of my favorite lamb dishes) from Seriously Good

From A Mingling Of Tastes:

Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts --An excellent appetizer
Spiced Lamb Patties with Minted Yogurt Sauce --Serve as apps, a main course, or turn them into burgers
Exotic Rack of Lamb --Get out your spice grinder for this seductive special occasion meal
Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew --Easy, satisfying and flavorful
Herb-Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce --A simple marinade courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa, and an addictive yogurt sauce

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Lydia said...

I like the idea of fennel with lamb, though I've never tried it. Interesting to note your side-by-side comparison; I, too, would have expected the American lamb to fall short in the flavor department, and I'm glad to know it didn't.

Christine said...

Hi Julie,
I just now saw that you linked to me in this post. Thanks so much! I haven't been cruising the blogosphere lately - no time - but do appreciate it when someone like you links to my blog.
Thanks again!