It is true that for the most part, my family has replaced lamb with beef in many Lebanese dishes, especially kibbeh. But when special occasions bring us to the table together, it is the traditional Lebanese love of lamb that prevails. Easter at our house just wouldn’t be Easter without a symbolic, succulent platter of grilled lamb to pass around.
I notice that lamb can garner tepid responses in many circles, primarily for being ‘too strong’ or gamey. But fresh, tender spring lamb is widely available and is succulent in every way. My favorite cut is a rack of lamb for its luscious morsels of filet along the rack. Yes, racks of lamb are small cuts (which you want—indicating the meat came from a small, young and therefore better tasting lamb) and they are pricey, especially considering how many you’ll need to feed the whole crowd. That’s one reason why lamb, for us at least, has always been special feast meat, not every day meat.
The lamb at Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs is not to be had this year for Easter. They’re all pregnant and out in the field, I was told. Well if you put it that way, I can’t really complain. The other Michigan lamb available at the IGA was $54 for a 3 lb. rack. Ouch. I decided on a New Zealand rack from Toski Sands for $20, given New Zealand lamb’s reputation and knowing how good it would be.
When purchasing lamb, there are three things to note:
- The fat reaches to the end of the rib bones. This fat should be cut away to reveal the bones, or ‘Frenched.’ You can do this yourself, which provides a little pile of meat trimmings that are a special treat sautéed with some garlic and eaten by the cook and the cook alone as she prepares dinner. The little treat comes at a cost of time and finesse, and remembering that the important thing above all here is cooking the lamb, it’s advisable to forego the DIY Frenching ask the butcher to do it for you.
- There is a thick layer of fat on one side of the rack called the fat cap. This cap must be cut away with a boning knife and pulled off, otherwise the excess fat creates a fire in the hole as it melts, inflaming your grill fire or splattering up for a fire in the oven, then catching your lamb on fire and making for a less-than-pink meat. There is plenty of fat left on the rack after the cap is removed to provide for a flavorful crust and moist meat. Butcher will also remove this for you.
- The bone along the edge of the rack, the chine or spinal bone, must be removed by the butcher. More on why this is essential later this week; for now, I beg you to trust me on this count and always ask if the chine bone is removed on any rack of lamb you are buying.
Easter is coming, and if you celebrate, you may like me be dreaming of yellow peeps and chocolate peanut butter eggs. I dream too of lollipops, little lamb lollipop chops on the grill. A very simple, yet truly superb way to cook and eat rack of lamb is coming your way.
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I too purchase Frenched Rack of Lamb for special occasions. But, also have traded in lamb for beef in many Lebanese dishes. Can’t cheat though when cooking for special occasions. You just made me hungry for a nice rack of Lollipop Lamb. Thanks Cuz
Good day Maureen,
Lamb is one of my all time favorite proteins. It pairs so well with soft red wines, it’s tender, and the flavor is increible. So, I thought I’d find a nice Lebanese woman to marry, and I did! My plan backfired…She’s the only Lebanese woman on the planet who refuses to eat Lamb! So it goes…
That said, my mother-in-law (From Grand Ledge–Hint Hint…) is a wonderful cook. Her Lebanese is devine…grapeleaves, kibbeh, hushwi, Fatayar (meat and pine nuts), talami, all of it…it’s what we have when we come visit, the whole lot of it!
In any event, my wife Sarah (further Hint Hint) turned me on to your blog, it’s really great stuff. Maybe our paths will cross one day…
Wonderful note, Mark!! Sounds like you hit the kitchen jackpot with your wife and her family….thanks so much for joining me here!
You’d be surprised to find out that here in Beirut, a lot of people order veal or beef instead of lamb; lamb is more expensive. However when we make kafta or a traditional dish the butcher suggests mixing lamb and veal instead of just sticking with veal so that it is more moist.
I love the idea of a mix of lamb and veal, Joumana. I will try it, thanks! And I am surprised to know that lamb is less popular there!!