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Tell me about lamb, please?

Short form: I was a vegetarian for 20+ years, now I'm not. I started eating meat 5 weeks ago. I only eat meat that was pastured and humanely raised.

I have had chicken, pork, and beef. Chicken and pork are okay, with chicken tasting better than pork. Ham is the only pork so far that I have really loved. Beef is better than both of them, though; it gives me a food high. Next I want to try lamb, but I am intimidated because I don't know how it tastes and some people seem to dislike the flavor. Can anyone describe how it tastes?

Also, any tips on cooking it very easily? I find that I do not like meat that is hard to chew or that is dried out. Also, I tend to cook smallish cuts because it's just me eating it. And, I have a Jaccard.

Thanks!

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  1. The characteristic taste of lamb is mostly in the fat, so I would suggest you start with a loin. This is also the right size for one person. Cook it like you would cook a steak (medium rare for me). If you like, you can marinate it with garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil, but remove the aromatics before you cook the meat.

    Advanced lamb-eaters may proceed to cross-sections of the leg and then to lamb shanks and from there to shoulder cuts.

    1. Hi reptilegrrl
      Here in the UK lamb seems to be much more commonly eaten than it is in at least some parts of the US (only from what I've gathered here on Chowhound threads); it doesn't have the 'wariness' factor it appears to have for some people I've read about on here. Here, it's very much a staple food alongside chicken, pork and beef (it's a standard British roast dinner, for example) although it is getting really expensive - so I don't think you particularly need to anticipate that it won't be to your taste.

      I think I respectfully disagree with ZoeLouise about cuts to try first; I think a lamb shank would fit the bill to start off with because it's easy to deal with, (just comes as one piece), is the right size for one, and if you braise it for a couple of hours it will fall off the bone so won't be hard to chew or dry. I braise mine in a lidded casserole dish in red wine, tinned tomatoes and rosemary very gently for as long as four hours (time consuming but very easy and hassle-free). Lamb is also very good in a curry or a moroccan dish: I use neck fillet for that which goes very tender - although of course the strong flavours will mean you won't get the 'pure' lamb taste. You may think that's a good thing or you may not! Good luck with it anyway, let us know how you get on.

      3 Replies
      1. re: flashria

        Regarding the wariness factor: I had a girlfriend in high school whose father REFUSED to eat lamb of any cut. He had served overseas in WWII and said that for long stretches, all they had to eat was lamb, and he hated it from the first.

        As time went on, I found this to be true of a lot of WWII vets, and personally, I think that lingering wariness comes from childrens having been influenced by inherited tatses, even after a generation or two have passed.

        As it turns out, what most of them had been eating was in fact mutton, and as most would be aware now, mutton and lamb are worlds apart.

        Lamb chops, leg of lamb, lamb curry...all wonderful. I also love lamb ribs when I can find them.

        1. re: Fydeaux

          My wariness is only from the internet :) I remember having lamb a few times when I was a kid, but I don't remember what it tasted like at all. Also my family were beef farmers, sheep were just not a big part of our diet.

          I understand that mutton used to be a lot easier to find in the US, but it is also easier to mess up, as it needs proper aging.

          1. re: Fydeaux

            My dad never got overseas, but he still got mutton, which is why my first taste of lamb was on a field trip to Chicago when I was 15 or so. When I got home and asked Mom why we never had that wonderful stuff, she explained it.

            Barbecued mutton is pretty special too, though. Still waiting for my first mutton chop …

        2. I think lamb has a richer, slightly gamier flavor than beef. It's my favorite meat. The easiest way to start might be with chops - loin, NOT rib. I dust mine with a little garlic powder and pepper and broil five minutes per side for medium rare.

          1. I love lamb, as long as it is not overcooked.

            1. I probably eat more lamb than any other meat. It's generally a sweet, mild meat that lends itself to cooking in different styles, depending on the cut of meat. Generally, I find it more flavoursome than I find beef (except for very well matured beef).

              As the OP doesnt like chewy or dried out meat, I'd suggest starting out with a casserole or stew type dish, where the meat can be long-cooked in flavourings that the OP likes.

              I don't know what sheep farming practice is whereever the OP lives but, in my experience, sheep are almost inherently humanely raised on grasslands, roaming free.

              By the by, I've often read on Chowhound that many Americans don't like the taste of lamb, sometimes saying it is "gamey". I've never quite understood the "gamey" thing, as I also eat a lot of game and it doesnt taste like most of the game meats I eat. To me, lamb tastes like lamb, venison like venison, pheasant like pheasant, etc.

              I wouldnt advise trying hogget or mutton at first, as they both have a more pronounced "mature" flavour than young lamb. That said, they are both absolutely delicious and I'd always prefer to eat them to lamb.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Harters

                Harters, I suspect the lamb you get in the UK is not the same here. All of the New Zealand lamb that comes here is frozen and it tastes very strong or gamey. I prefer my local Quebec lamb because it is milder. Could it be that you are getting better quality lamb in the UK?

                1. re: Ruthie789

                  New Zealand lamb in the UK also generally comes frozen (although some is imported just chilled) but I don't find it at all strongly flavoured. Quite the contrary. It's very mild and that's why I don't like it. Much prefer our local hill raised sheep breeds - they pack some real taste. Even better when they're available in the more mature hogget or mutton.

                  1. re: Harters

                    I have NEVER had "gamey" NZ lamb. If I could find it, I'd buy it by the truckload! It's very very mild, approaching flavorless. Pity.

                2. re: Harters

                  If you have ever had venison that has not been hung for a sufficient period prior to cooking, that is the flavor Americans call "gamey." It is a pungent, somewhat sour or metallic flavor, not entirely dissimilar from beef liver or mutton. In lamb, these flavors come from several fatty acids, though with wild game, various factors can contribute to gaminess including lactic acid production from the chase and contamination from improper field dressing.

                3. I live alone and love lamb because the chops are perfect for a single diner and easy to do. You can start with loin or rib chops, how many is a personal decision. I don't think loin or rib chops need a marinade, just a good seasoning of s&p, garlic, and some rosemary. I don't care for mint at all, but some like to either season with mint or serve mint jelly. Count me out on that.

                  I use a lot of shoulder lamb chops or 2nd cut chops. They are much less expensive and you can marinade them in a hearty oil/vinegar/dijon mustard/rosemary dressing. They are wonderful grilled or broiled. I like my meat medium rare, usually 3/4 in thick, about 4-5 min per side.

                  A rack of lamb, about 6-7 rib chops, is a perfect small roast for 2 people. Use a high heat, about 425, season as above and roast for 15-18 min. I take out my lamb at about 125F, let it sit for 5-10 min before carving.

                  For a larger crowd, love a butterflied leg of lamb, but you usually have to have about 6 hearty eaters for that. Essentially, it's a large, boneless lamb steak that you should marinade and grill.

                  The "gamey" taste a lot of people complain about in lamb comes from the fat, and if that bothers you, you should aggressively trim the fat to a minimum. Happy eating!

                  1. Where are you from? I prefer young spring lamb which comes from local sources as it is milder in taste to the New Zealand lamb.
                    I buy a gigot or leg of lamb and marinate before cooking and cover it with a dressing made with herbs and believe it or not anchovies. I served it at a dinner party and people were stunned not believing it was lamb it was so mild in taste and I made a gravy using a little raspberry wine vinegar. My mother-in-law made a honey dressing which she basted her lamb with and as well it was good. I think lamb is good roasted in combinations of dressings which for me subdue the taste.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Ruthie789

                      Interesting. I never buy New Zealand lamb because I find it is too mild a flavour in comparision to my local lamb.

                      By the by, you can stud a leg (or shoulder) with anchovies, in the same way as you might with the more usual garlic/rosemary.

                      1. re: Harters

                        We never buy New Zealand lamb, either. We purchase our (whole) lamb from a local lamb farmer who also makes her own cheeses from the milk. The lamb is extremely tender and full of flavour (more so than NZ lamb, of course).

                        LOVE the anchovy idea. I had never thought of that but will do that when we have lamb in a couple of days. I like to stud it with capers, too.

                        1. re: Harters

                          I am from Quebec and the lamb here is very good.

                        2. re: Ruthie789

                          I am from Texas, but right now I am living in Arizona. There are grass-fed sheep being raised for meat in my area, though it is almost impossible to find local organic grass-fed here. (Texas, on the other hand, has a much better climate, so organic and grass-fed meats are easier to find.) I am in AZ for college, when I move home I will be able to graze my own meat. If I find I like lambs, I will raise some :)

                        3. I LOVE lamb. but that's no guarantee you will too, so the proof will be in you tasting it. For sheer, luxuriant, delicious lamb, I highly recommend lamb shanks slow braised with carrots and onions, and if you like barley, it goes great with lamb shanks. Don't forget a clove or two of garlic, and some nice crusty bread to sop up the juices. Shanks are a fairly cheap cut, far cheaper than ribs or chops, and braising is a simple, straight out method of cooking, so what have you got to lose? Nothing! Enjoy! If you lived closer, I'd invite myself to dinner! '-).

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Do you sear the shank before braising? Like with beef?

                          2. I like all cuts of lamb very well but I agree with the several others who have suggested a braised shank. It is fairly inexpensive and will result in a very succulent dish.

                            1. Lamb can range from a very mild taste to a gamey taste. I live in the U.S. (most of the time) and I like lamb a lot. Recently, I bought a leg from Costco and I will never again buy a leg of lamb from Costco. It was terrible and tasteless - not worth the time to cook it. If you are going to try it for the first time, I think that chops or a rack would be the cut to try. I bought New Zealand rack of lamb from Trader Joe's and it was delicious. We roasted the rack with just salt and pepper and maybe a little rosemary or thyme. We like it cooked on the rare side and it turned out very tender. If you like it more cooked, it will have some chew to it. Lamb chops can be broiled (easy and fast). Also, the fat on chops and racks (really same thing), can easily be cut off while eating.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: whinendine

                                Try Costco again for lamb. I love lamb, it is my favorite meat. I buy it from an Amish farm at our local farmers market, from Costco because the rack of lamb and the boneless (butterflied ) leg cannot be beat for price and ease of use and from a local butcher. In general, a butterflied leg of lamb from Costco is one of my favorite Spring and Summer dinner party main courses.

                              2. sadly, much american lamb is now grain-fed, so i no longer buy it in favor of either nz or australian lamb.

                                lamb plays nicely with Mediterranean flavors like rosemary, garlic, olive, anchovy, fennel, tomato, lavender, etc.

                                lamb chops are pretty small and quick to cook but can also be quite spendy. just a few minutes under the broiler and they are done.

                                personally i prefer the richer taste of slow-cooked shank or leg, but that may be too much meat for the op. you can look for a small cut of leg and eat it several ways, including cold over a sharp greens salad.

                                1. I was raised in a house that didn't eat lamb and all other meat was served well done. When I was 18 I was away at school and was invited for dinner at the home of my roommate's family friends. They served lamb chops cooked on the grill medium rare. I sort of held my breath and took a bite--and loved it. Since then I have become a fan of lamb. If I was introducing someone to lamb, I would not go with the stronger flavor of a shank, rib or other marbled piece. I would start with a lovely lamb chop, seasoned with rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper and then grilled outside or cast iron inside until medium rare. Serve with a heavy red.