Chefs' Lamb Cooking Tips & Tricks

Though it may not feel like it—especially on much of the East Coast—spring has officially sprung. Before you know it, chefs will run amok singing songs of the season, adding ingredients like white asparagus, pea tendrils and ramps to their menu.

Lamb, too, is sure to be making waves as well. Tender and juicy, a restaurant-worthy lamb dish can easily be replicated at home. Whether you’re preparing a dish for the holiday or simply changing up your dinner routine, take a tip from the pros.

Fat is Good
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, lamb is an excellent source of protein and chock-full of many vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fats. When purchasing, Einat Admony, chef/owner of Balaboosta and Taïm restaurants in New York, looks for red color first and foremost, and then looks at fat content. “I love the fat,” she says, beaming.

Ryan McCaskey of two-Michelin-starred Acadia in Chicago is a huge fan, too: “I buy saddles with the cap and fat still attached as they protect the meat.” McCaskey sources his lamb from Elysian Fields in Ruff Creek, Pennsylvania. “This way I know [that] the treatment of the product is the highest quality, and the flavor is best, too.”

Use the Sum of Its Parts
McCaskey’s favorite cut of lamb is the saddle, the area that is made up of the loins on either side of the animal. “We use the loins for a course, with just a little of the fat cap on and then we use the tenderloin for a canapé,” he says. He also roasts the bones for lamb stock and uses any extra fat for lamb butter. “We also use the belly to make lamb bacon. In the end, we utilize the whole saddle.”

The saddle is a favorite of David Posey, as well; at his two-starred Elske, which he co-owns with his wife, Anna, lamb saddles are aged on the bone for two weeks before they're broken down. 

Aaron Bludhorn, executive chef of one-Michelin-starred Café Boulud, prefers the shoulder: “There are so many ways to prepare it,” he says. “You can slow roast, braise or make a sausage.” Bludhorn particularly enjoys a confit shoulder that can be picked apart and used for things like ravioli fillings, samosas or lasagnas.
Lamb rack at Café Boulud. (Photo: Café Boulud New York Facebook page.)

Keep it Juicy Before and After Cooking
Plenty of chefs use high-end sous vide equipment to prepare large amounts of perfectly-cooked meat for service. But going one step further, a juicy piece of lamb sporting a perfect Maillard reaction on the crust is the way to go. At home, Admony uses a dutch oven.

“Make sure that the sear or grill is hard and fast,” suggests Bludhorn. “That way you’re not slow-cooking the meat.” Bludhorn then says to reduce the heat greatly—or place on a less hot part of the grill—and let the meat slowly cook until medium-rare to medium. 

And like all protein, the most important part of cooking is to let the meat rest. “Too often lamb is sliced too soon, and the juices have not had a chance to go back into the meat,” adds Bludhorn. A general rule of thumb is to cover the meat and let it rest for at least 10 minutes to ensure the juices don’t run out. 

Get Creative
Whether you’re grilling, braising or roasting, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box, as lamb pairs well with a multitude of flavors.

“I loved the lamb dish that was on our menu a few years ago,” says McCaskey. “It had a fennel puree, watercress, compressed apple and parsnip puree.

The Poseys love a whole-roasted leg of lamb with a mint chimichurri; it's a dish often served at home. "We're trying to figure out a way to make it a little more consistent to put on the menu at Elske," he says. 

An advocate of the lamb neck, Admony serves hers braised on chickpea cream and topped with dates and preserved lemons. “I love this dish because growing up, my mom used to make turkey neck soup with chickpeas,” she says. “It was one of my favorite things ever.”

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