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Can’t Cook Lamb? Baaaaaa — Humbug!

legoflambTurkey has whoopped Lamb’s butt in terms of consumption in this country. Before the invention of “processed turkey everything” starting about 20 years ago, in general, American families ate turkey twice a year. Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ham gets the nod for Easter in most parts of the country with a cameo appearance of the leg of lamb on the east and west coasts. Lamb gets eaten on special occasions: going out to eat in a restaurant or at Easter/Passover. That is it.

Turkey raisers and processors made the decision to turn all that meat into – well, into everything. Remember the joke with the punch line, “Tastes like chicken”? Well, turkey has been turned into everything – sausages, processed luncheon meats approximating everything from pastrami to ham, hot dogs, fillings for tacos, soups and meatloaf. You name it, with the addition of spices and goodness only knows what else, turkey can be sliced, diced, ground, shredded, and liquefied into anything under the sun. Our own little “Soylent Green”.

What happened to lamb? Well, even on it’s best day, worldwide (and despite everything the Australians and New Zealanders do), lamb only captures about 6% of the meat consumption. The vast majority of it is consumed in the Middle East. In the United States, lamb is not a huge seller but is most popular at the coasts. meat statistics

It was not always that way.

Statistics show that in 1940, although lamb certainly was not number one, a lot more of it was being consumed than today. And looking at what American’s consumers ate a lot more of, the answer is simple: beef. Meat Consumption

Consumption in millions of pounds

Why beef? Well, beef was always ‘the expensive meat’ for Americans. After the Second World War, with families becoming more affluent, they turned to the aspirational meat, beef. Why is beyond me; lamb has a lot to recommend it, not only from the taste aspect but also from the ecological aspect (sheep are not as hard on grasslands as beef are and you can raise far more sheep on the same area than you can beef) and nutritionally. Four ounces of meat, roasted:

Protein………..30 gr……………32 gr.
fat total………11 gr……………11.5 gr.
Mono fat………4.5 gr…………..4.3 gr.
Poly fat………. 1 gr……………. .43 gr
Niacin…………..7.75 mg………..4.4 mg
Biotin…………..2.3 mcg………….0
folate…………..28.35 mcg……….8 mcg
pantothenic acid….77 mg…………4 mg
calcium…………..19 mg……………8 mg
Omega 3…………. .2 g…………… .04 g

Lamb is also a great source of minerals (as if beef by the way) especially selenium (source:

If you look at old cookbooks of the period, lamb was viewed as the Sunday dinner and people ate it a lot..not just at Easter or Passover. When we used to raise lamb at Chez Siberia, we had customers and we used to do a bit of marketing by giving out free samples. But we couldn’t give away lamb that was not already cooked to people who did not eat lamb. It was a waste of time and meat – they would invariably come back with statements such as “I knew I wouldn’t like it; I remember that awful smell from my grandmother’s house.” Or, “It tasted like shoes – I’d never eat it.”

We didn’t have ‘that awful smell”. We didn’t have meat that had the texture of shoes. This is when it hit me – there were sense memories that we could not change and people lacked cooking knowledge.

Since then, the whole locovore/grass-fed/pasture raised meats movement has grown tremendously but you still have people who will complain about lamb because they don’t know how to cook it. It’s the same old problem of ‘crank up the barbeque and throw a piece of meat on it and when it looks burned enough, put it on a plate and be surprised that it tastes awful and is as chewy as an old boot.’ But on the other hand, this is the same problem with all grass-raised/pasture-raised meat because people do not understand the differences between cooking meat with high Omega 6 fatty acids and meats with higher Omega 3. The higher the Omega 6 content (such as in grain fed animals), the higher temperature can be used to cook the meat – Omega 6 fatty acids can handle higher cooking temperatures to break down and liquefy. Omega 3 fatty acids cannot – so the trick with grass-fed/pasture-raised meats is to lower the temperature in the oven and cook the meat longer. Even under the usual growing conditions, lamb has higher Omega3 than beef does – under grass-raising conditions, that ratio gets even higher. No wonder what people remember about that leg of lamb from Grandma’s Sunday dinner is the smell of the Omega 3’s being broken down by the high cooking temperatures.

The DH and I went to a workshop run by Shannon Hayes, The Grassfed Gourmet herself. Grassfed Cooking

It was truly mind-boggling what she could do with a Weber ™ grill and a temperature probe, even with the toughest, chewiest cuts of meat such as brisket. We’ve become converts to the use of this little piece of equipment, even indoors in the oven and I have to say that we have never had a bad piece of meat since. Here are two great ways to cook lamb, one a regional specialty, and one for that Sunday roast.

Roast Lamb (using a boneless leg)
If the lamb is frozen, take it out and defrost it.

Mix together 2-3 tsps. Of rosemary and thyme, and finely chopped garlic (2-3 cloves will do).

Rub this all over the outside of the leg of lamb and let rest at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (take a deep breath…)

Place the lamb into a roasting pan, set it in the oven and IMMEDIATELY LOWER THE HEAT TO 250. (There, I told you).

Continue roasting until a thermometer reads 120 degrees for rare, 130 for medium (don’t eat well-done lamb – just…don’t).

Cooking times will vary but allow at least 2.5 hours at 250 degrees for a medium-rate 5.5 pound leg.

Remove the lamb from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving – the lamb will continue to cook while it is resting.

Slice and enjoy

Do NOT serve this with mint jelly. Better accompaniments include: homemade cranberry sauce, unsweetened apple sauce, baked apples with a little bit of cinnamon and so on.

If you are a wine drinker, please feel free to serve what you like best with this. Yes, I know lamb is a red meat, but at Chez Siberia, we break that ‘red meat=red wine’ thing all the time. Lamb has a rich enough taste on its own – a good dry Riesling will hold its own.

Spiedies are to the Southern Tier of New York what Buffalo Chicken Wings are to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. As native Binghamtonians (Binghamtonians?) have achieved refugee status and moved elsewhere, they have taken this beloved local fast food to other parts of the country. Last week, it was even covered on HuffPo. Meathead discovers Spiedies

Start the cutting up and marinating process a couple of days before your event.

To make sandwiches out of these, you’ll need loaves of good quality (not mushy) Italian bread
5 to 7 pounds lamb, cut up into large cubes (about 1.5 x 1.5 inches)
1 head garlic, coarsely chopped

Spices – here are a couple of common combinations:
1 bunch fresh parsley, coarsely chopped (2-3 cups)
2-3 cups fresh basil, coarsely chopped

A large bunch of mint, coarsely chopped
1 cup of fresh oregano coarsely chopped


4-6 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper (add more pepper or red pepper if you like things hot)

Mix cut up meat, garlic and spices in a huge bowl (you may need more than one bowl or big plastic tub with a lid. Then add

1 bottle red wine (approximately 3 cups) and an equal amount olive oil

Marinate 48 to 72 hours, put on skewers and grill until done – don’t allow to burn.
How to make a spiedi sandwich:
Hold a piece of Italian bread in one hand and lay the end of the skewer with meat on it in the center of the bread. Grip the meat with the bread and pull the skewer out.
Instant sandwich. Eat it quick before someone else spots it and snatches it away.
Other uses for spiedies: You can make spiedies out of lamb, pork, beef, or venison. You can use this grilled meat alone, cold, warm, in salads, or as filling in anything you can wrap around it.

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  1. wirehead says:

    I’m a huge fan of lamb. It’s largely because I found myself married to a non-beef-eating Hindu, so if I want red meat, Lamb is pretty much the best option.

    I call it racism in the meat aisle. Plenty of different cuts of beef. A little bit less cuts of pork. Next to no lamb. And, between the Mrs. and myself, we crave the stuff.

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  3. Reilly says:

    Aaaaaaah, lamb. One of the national foods of us Aussies. I’ve never been able to work out exactly what North Americans seem to have against it. Some have complained that it’s ‘fatty’. It can be but that depends on what you buy and/or how you cook it. I roast my (legs of) lamb on a rack, pierce it in places with a knife and tuck in slivers of garlic and sprigs of rosemary. Squeeze over fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with coarse ground black pepper. The leftovers make a great Scottish dish called Stovies and the bone is wonderful for stock. Going to have to try these Spiedies though!

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