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Never tasted lamb, which cut?

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I'd like to try lamb. What are the best tasting cuts to prepare for someone like me who has never tasted lamb?

What recipe, sides? etc etc etc.

I'm learning so much from chowhound and really love reading everyone's ideas and recipes!

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  1. I would recommend the rib or loin chops, cooked not beyond medium rare. They're the mildest and not likely to get gamy unless you overcook them. Leg of lamb is riskier.

    I like to get them from Costco. Very young and mild New Zealand lamb. The racks can be cut into double rib chops; the loin chops are perfect as is and need virtually no trimming. Just a little salt and pepper and they can be quickly grilled as you would a steak.

    Or the racks can be roasted whole. Salt and pepper as above, sear off in a pan until browned and then into a hot (400F) oven for about 8 to 12 minutes until they read about 125F-130F inside. Or you could coat with either dijon mustard and garlic and herbs or olive tapenade after searing but before shoving them into the oven. When I do cooking classes I'll often do three racks three ways and we do a taste test, and often the plain salt and pepper comes out on top.

    A lot will depend upon how old the lamb is. The larger American racks will likely be older and will have a stronger flavor that will be more like mutton and you may not like it. The younger, smaller racks will be milder in flavor and most people prefer that. But of course all tastes vary.

    5 Replies
    1. re: acgold7

      The Lamb at Costco alone is worth the yearly membership...

      1. re: King of Northern Blvd

        Completely agree.

        1. re: King of Northern Blvd

          The closest Costco is about an hour away, so I don't think I'll make the drive just for that, so I'm not likely to pay for the yearly membership either. But thanks King!

        2. re: acgold7

          Thanks acgold7. That sonds simple enough! Since I've never purchased lamb either, will the older ribs be a larger size than the lamb ribs? Will I notice a size difference between what is offered, or will the meat package state "lamb" or "mutton"?

          1. re: chocolatejam

            You're very unlikely to find mutton in the States. I've never seen it in a supermarket here. The racks from younger lambs will be about a pound or so, older closer to two pounds. The older ones will have a more distinct flavor but if you've eaten all the meats you indicate below, you''ll find these fine.

            I've read all the other posts up to the time of this posting as well, and all the ideas are terrific. I've had and really love most of the dishes recommended. But there's something to keep in mind: many of the highly-spiced ideas will completely overwhelm the taste of the lamb (as they were intended to do in the days before refrigeration when the recipes were developed). That's great if you don't like lamb, but for this first try I get the sense that you are trying to check it out to decide if you like it. So for this first go-around I would suggest you keep it simple and go with something simply roasted or pan-grilled, using the milder cuts. You can certainly graduate to the more assertive techniques and recipes later.

            Also it's important to remember that the smell that makes people "gag" often comes from overcooking it, lamb that's aged too much or from the fat burning. Marcella Hazan says it comes from mixing the fat with Olive Oil and forming a chemical reaction as it cooks.

            Do you live near a good steakhouse that can prepare a simple rack of lamb for you? (Whatever you do, do NOT partake of the foul mint jelly they will force on you.)

        3. Oh my goodness, are you in for a treat.

          Lamb chops, lamb shoulder, lamb riblets, lamb ragu, lamb kebabs. It just goes on and on, the lamb love does.

          I agree with the suggestion to start with some chops, they're pricey, but cooked simply, to medium rare, how could you not become a fan. And then, my little friend, get some of the more interesting cuts and come back and talk to us. Nigella has a ragu recipe that takes all of 20 minutes. It is wonderful over pasta or polenta, and completely approachable. -Not that ground lamb is so interesting, but it could be your second gateway experience after the chops.

          I never buy my lamb at CostCo, will definitely have to check it out next time I'm there.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rabaja

            rabaja, thank you for your encouragement(s). I'm just tired of beef, chicken, pork and turkey. At age 63 I think it's time to spread my wings. I've always loved new foods, so I'm not picky. I've been cooking for over 50 years but never tasted lamb!

            My most different or not normal choice has been veal. I make a really good Swedish Meatball with beef pork and veal, but it is way past time to try lamb.

          2. Difficult one to offer advice to a first timer as we eat more lamb than any other meat.

            Perhaps something easy like chops or, if they are available where you are, leg steaks. Cook them very simply so you don't mask the flavour of the meat, so you can see how much you like it.

            I read on Chowhound that Americans often describe lamb as "gamey", which I always find odd as it always seems a mild sweet meat to us, in comparison with game or, indeed, beef. Mutton, of course, will have much more flavour as it is older but I dont recommend you try this first.

            Personally, I wouldnt buy New Zealand lamb as I find it much too bland but it may be a good idea for you to try it for your first

            1 Reply
            1. re: Harters

              Harters, thank you for trying to describe the taste in words for a 'first-timer"! All I know is it won't taste like chicken! I've eatten venison before and buffalo, and don't find they taste odd. And rabbit. oh and ostritch, so I guess I've had several meats that are off the main stay of American foods. I liked them all too. Though it did bother me to eat rabbit, those cute little furry aniimals just aren't meant to be eatten, too cute....

              We do have several markets that are a bit more upscale that should offer lamb.

              I'm also wanting to try DUCK! I'm tired of the same old same old... thanks for your reply.

            2. I don't want my comment to dissuade you from trying it, since I think it's great that you are excited about branching out. But, as someone who ABHORS lamb, I find that I am happiest with it when it is highly spiced. It loves curry, harissa, etc. So, I'd probably recommend you finding something with a lot of flavor on it so that you are able to taste it gradually, rather than a big ol' salt and pepper bite of lamb, all lamb. Does that make sense? it's a very strong flavor, so it can stand up to seasoning a lot.

              1. I grew up in a household where lamb was not served because my mother hated it. At the age of 18 I went to the house of my roommate's aunt and uncle. Very sophisticated people, they served gorgeous tiny lamb chops that had been grilled. I was afraid to taste it, but found them to be luscious since they were a nice medium rare. Since then I have gone on to eat all kinds of lamb but still remember those as being amazing.

                4 Replies
                1. re: escondido123

                  Escondido,

                  I was on the same boat. My grandmother used to cook it back when it was cheap, and a leg would feed the entire family (I have 7 uncles and 2 aunts and obviously my mother, hey, Irish-Catholic, thats what they did back in the day!) and my mother always said that my grandmother would take the leg, rub it with salt and pepper and throw it in the oven. To this day, that smell to her makes her gag, and I don't blame her because I'm sure the leg was like mutton.

                  To the OP, I finally broke my mother of her adversion to lamb by smoking it. Now, if you smoke a rib rack, you might not be able to taste the lamb at all, and I think that you should be able to taste it to decide if you like it. I got a leg of lamb, which will have a stronger flavor than a rib rack, and made a marinade of chopped rosemary (to release more of the oils), olive oil, black pepper and kosher salt. I then rubbed it onto the lamb, and smoked it over charcoal with mesquite and hickory wood chips (about a 1:3 ratio of mesquite to hickory) for about 4 1/2 hours, at approx 220 degrees. When she tried it, she loved it. No every time I have her over to my house for dinner, she asks if I'm going to make it again. But, I'm not sure this is the way to go for your first time, as there are a lot of complex flavors going on with the way I prepare it. I think that if you can at least somewhat like a plain rib, then you can start to experiment with all the different ways that you can cook it!

                  1. re: bwinter714

                    Such good ideas.

                    Escondido, the gag and smell thing is what I think of because that is all I've ever heard other people talk about when it comes to lamb in my circle. We lived in London back in the mid '60's and my next door neighbor had me convinced lamb reheated was the devils food! So for me to want to try it is a reach.

                    But I want to try ribs first. Not such an investment if I really don't like it. Plus, I want some dripping for my dog Jack who has allergies to common dog foods. (not lamb and rice). So you might say I've gone to the dogs on wanting to try lamb.

                    I don't grill, so smoking sounds like too much work right now too.

                    I'm many one of all the people in the USA who doesn't use a grill! I just don't like the added work of taking everything outside, undercooking or over cooking good steak or ribs and having the little bits of black burnt on stuff from the metal rack. YUCK. But I love a pan seared steak done inside.

                    We grew up without ever having lamb in our house, yet we had other "wierd" food, like picled pigs feet (I loved, but don't think I could eat them now) Pig brain, mom made her own headcheese once. Liver, and kidney - not now - and I still love chicken giblets.

                    Thanks for your help.

                    1. re: chocolatejam

                      Lamb ribs ( or lamb breast, as we call it) might not be the best choice for a first try. They are very fatty and that'll mask the sweet taste of the meat. Your butcher should be able to prepare you a breast joint, boned and rolled, for roasting but again, I wouldnt suggest this as a first try for a roast (go for a leg or shoulder joint).

                      1. re: Harters

                        I think by ribs cj really means rack or rib chops.

                2. Hi Chocolatejam. My mother was French and we had lamb often. My favorite was leg of lamb. Mom (and I) would make parallel slits all over the leg and insert thin slices of garlic in each of the slits, then salt, pepper and Italian seasoning all over the leg, pour about 1/4 C of olive oil over it and roast it in a 350 degree oven for about 1.5 hours, until medium rare in the center. Ohhhh YUM!! When she and I did them, we always got the lamb with the bone in, so it was a bit of a chore to cut around the center bone, but dad managed.

                  My next favorite lamb dish was curry and rice, where you make up a pot of rice (or a pan of chicken flavored Rice-A-Roni, which I like better), then make up a mild (or not) pot of curry sauce, using chicken stock as the liquid for the roux and curry powder mixture, heat to a simmer, allowing the sauce to thicken and get rid of the flour taste, then slip in slices of left over leg of lamb, cover and turn off the heat, allowing the lamb to heat in the sauce, then spoon it over the rice. Yee Gods, I'm bringing myself to tears and my stomach is growling!!

                  The third way I remember was, when the bone was down to scraps of meat here and there, some thicker than others, was to remove all the meat from the bone, run it through a grinder, add some chopped garlic and parsley, together with any jelled meat juice on the plate, make up a small amount of roux, using chicken broth for the liquid till you have a small amount of light to medium weight gravy, add it to the ground lamb, throw in a good handful of grated parmesan, mix all of it together and put it in a baking dish, top with another handful of parmesan and put it in the oven at 350 until bubbly. Yes, it has the texture of dog food but the taste is sublime. Great on sandwiches the next day too.

                  Buon Appetite!!

                  1. With the cold weather setting in, any thought of lamb immediately turns my mind to Moroccan cooking. Fatty leg or shoulder transmogrified into slow-cooked, sticky tajines, ground and grilled into kefta or roasted into mechoui, which may be highest and best expression of a desert cuisine (or at least the desert-y part of Moroccan cuisine).

                    The best tip I could possibly offer is equally applicable to other foods and methods- you really really want to get fresh (and by fresh I mean off-to-the-butcher fresh, not Costco-flown-in-from-Australia fresh- sorry, Costco guys), since the longer lamb tends to hang around, the gamier it gets.

                    Read up on Moroccan cooking and lamb applications. You won't regret it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: biggreenmatt

                      "Fatty leg or shoulder transmogrified into slow-cooked, sticky tajines, ground and grilled into kefta or roasted into mechoui",

                      I understood fatty leg or shoulder and then got lost. I know nothing of Moroccan cuisine!

                      Thanks, for the idea of Moroccan cooking. Lately I've been getting cook books from the library and finding all sorts of good things to eat. My shopping list is going to have to inclue something new every time I go to the store!

                      I know the one shop who has a very high-end location will have "fresh from the butcher" lamb. Thanks for that great tip.

                    2. I grew up loving lamb, eating lamb chops mostly. Baby lamb is the most mild and you might want to start with baby lamb chops. Don't cook past pink in the center! A few minutes per side for baby chops. To 130 for a roast, which will get to 135 as it rests after roasting. Some people like rosemary on it but I rub with olive oil. thyme, and a bit of garlic powder or fresh garlic. Rosemary is too strong for my tastes.

                      It might be good to seek out a good (or great) Greek restaurant near you for gyros especially if they have mixed lamb and beef. Also a good (or great) Indo-Pak restaurant for lamb biryani or lamb kebobs or lamb curry/vindaloo if you eat spicy. (A restaurant near us has tandoori lamb chops so good they make you cry.) Or find a good (or great) Chinese restaurant for Hunan lamb etc. Or a similar Middle Eastern restaurant for kebabs/schwerma, ground lamb. They will all know and use the myriad spices that lamb stands up so well next to and give you an idea of how it can/should taste.

                      My husband grew up with a mother who couldn't cook well at all and was non-adventurous to boot. She cooked lamb well done. I, as I said, loved lamb but only rare if made as chops or roast. I now have to hide leftover cooked lamb from him so we can have sandwiches the next day. It can happen for you, too.

                      1. No one's mentioned lamb neck fillets which I find surprising; they're what I always use in stew or casserole-type dishes. It's very easy to deal with (just trim and cube) and goes beautifully tender in, say, an hour's cooking. I also adore lamb shanks which take a long time - 4 hours or so - but need no attention in that time, just braise in passata and/or red wine with some vegetables, or make fabulous kleftiko.
                        I've eaten lamb all my life and don't recognise people's comments about the smell at all, in my experience roasting or grilling lamb produces mouthwatering aromas, is there something I'm missing about this? i'd love to understand why that might be?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: flashria

                          These may be my favorite cuts of all, but as well used parts of the lamb they tend to be much more flavorful, and for someone who is a newcomer to lamb they may be too intense and strongly-flavored. On the other hand, they may just love them.

                          I think the best analogy -- or maybe not -- is if someone who hasn't had spicy foods but says they want to try some, you wouldn't send them to habaneros right away. You start them with something relatively mild like a jalapeno first, then if they like it you let them work up to scotch bonnets gradually.

                        2. We never had it because of the mutton my dad had to eat in the Army during WW2. The smell of anything vaguely sheepy would make him gag. In my teens, on a Boy Scout trip to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, they offered lamb chops in the cafeteria, so of course I got one. The little paper cup of mint jelly didn't do anything for it, or me, but the lamb itself was very pleasant. At supper the next day I mentioned this and asked why we never had it; my dad left the table, and Mom explained.

                          My favorite lamb is neck, shanks and shoulder; I find leg a bit bland, but will certainly eat it if it's there. What I most commonly cook is shoulder blade chops. These are about the cheapest cut, with a higher proportion of fat and bone to meat, but the meat is about as delicious as a fast-cooking bit of lamb gets. My favorite methods are stovetop in a grill pan (I have a small one exactly the size for two chops), or seasoned, swabbed with olive oil, and roasted on a rack in a pan at 350º for 25-30 minutes. Shanks I like to do in a crock pot or braised in the oven, and served with couscous, pilaf or beans. Shanks and neck (especially neck) are my main meats of choice for making cassoulet, a recipe for which is on this board somewhere.

                          1. I adore lamb so am not the best judge of what might be "beginner" cuts. What I can tell you is that I have two friends, neither of whom like lamb and claim to hate lamb chops. For one reason or another, I have had lamb at parties they have attended and they liked it quite a bit. In both instances it was a boned leg of lamb, marinated overnight in minced garlic, chopped rosemary, and olive oil and cooked on the grill. An advantage of cooking the boned leg on the grill is that because some sections of the meat are thicker than others, you end up with varying degrees of doneness so the newbie can try both rarer and more well done meat. I prefer my lamb quite pink, but both my friends liked the more well-done parts.