I used to avoid lamb. It fell under the "too cute" category - a distinction which now makes no sense to me. If I'm going to eat meat, I'm not going to pick and choose based on an arbitrary scale of adorability. This awareness has helped me appreciate the meat I do eat while also helping me start to cut back on meat, an ongoing process that I'm thinking about more and more.
The first time I ate lamb, I was at a dinner party with my then-boyfriend at his relatives' house. When I saw that the main course was lamb, I panicked but quickly decided that the best route would be to take the smallest portion possible to avoid being rude and maybe take a few small bites.
Next thing I knew, I was asking for seconds. So much for cute.
Lamb Supper Club? Yes, Please.
Fast forward to now. I was recently contacted by the Tri-Lamb Group, a "collaborative initiative between United States, Australia, and New Zealand lamb producers to enhance demand for lamb in the United States." They wanted to know if I'd be willing to host a series of three lamb supper clubs for groups of friends: they'd provide the lamb, a recipe, and other necessary ingredients, and I'd take it from there. I realized that I'd never actually cooked lamb before, so it seemed like a good opportunity.
I rounded up the boyfriend, the roommate, and an assortment of blogger and non-blogger friends, set a date for a meal I dubbed Lambapalooza #1, and asked everyone to bring a dish they thought would go well with lamb.
Irene Keeps Us Indoors
I desperately wanted to grill the lamb outdoors and eat under a leaf-covered trellis in my yard; I've never eaten under it, and I hoped the final days of August would provide a good opportunity. Unfortunately, Lambapalooza ended up occurring the day before Hurricane Irene, so we expected heavy rains to begin right during dinner and opted for indoors instead. I obsessed a bit over decorating and ended up settling on picnic-style checkered tablecloths and a few other accoutrements, including an adorable lamb print by Alyson Thomas. (I also have one of her fantastic "cheeky meat" prints.)
Irene Also Inspires a Drink
Yep, hurricanes. How could we not? I'm not going to bother providing the recipe because, honestly, it was pretty much the entire liquor cabinet. There are tons of variations online - find one that looks good and play around with it if you really want to drink this. Our first attempt included blue curacao, which gave it a gray color - definitely hurricane-like, but certainly not appetizing. After some tinkering, we came up with a nice pink version (without the blue curacao). Think Long Island Iced Tea meets the sketchy jungle juice from a frat party, and that's pretty much what we drank. Keepin' it classy.
The guests arrived bearing wine and food. Molly (Cheap Beets) and her husband Rich brought curried potato latkes with curry yogurt sauce (also a delicious topping for the lamb!) Lindsey and Jon (the duo behind Beantown Eats) brought minted orzo with peas; you can view their recipe here. My non-blogger friends Lauren and Cindy brought an excellent chickpea salad. I also prepared dinner rolls - I'm using the term "prepared" loosely here as I actually only added seasoning to Pillsbury dough - and brie and fig cups, part of my new obsession with wonton wrappers. The cups are ridiculously easy to make; check out the video above for a demonstration.
Lambapalooza Hits a Snag...
The recipe we were provided was rather vague about when to slice the lamb. Since we were using the alternative oven- and pan-roasting instructions rather than grilling, and since the recipe didn't specify otherwise, we thought we were supposed to keep the lamb whole and in the netting as we roasted it. Turns out the 25-minute cooking estimate applies if you butterfly it before grilling; for our method, it was a good 90+ minutes. Oops. In the end, though, it was still delicious.
In Case You'd Like to Try It
Here's the marinade recipe from the Tri-Lamb Group:
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 to 4 red Anaheim chilies, thinly sliced (ribs and seeds removed if you'd like less heat)
Mix them all together, and marinate the lamb overnight if you can.
As far as cooking goes, you can try butterflying and grilling it (about 25 minutes, supposedly). We ended up doing a chaotic combination of searing on the stovetop and oven-roasting...and searing some more...over the course of about an hour and half. While it ended up great, I'd recommend checking some other sources to figure out what you should really do with a giant hunk of boneless lamb.
Lamb Thoughts from My Dinner Guests
"Why do I love lamb? It's never tasted gamey to me. I just think it's really tender and delicious. I love that it's even a little more meaty than beef sometimes. It tends to show up in the types of food I love, too: Indian, Greek..." -Rich
"My mom never really cooked lamb. It's been one of those meats that was kind of intimidating for me to cook for myself, maybe because I was never really exposed to it. The first time I think I really had lamb was with Jon. He made it really, really simply - a small rack of lamb, pan-seared in a cast iron skillet. I realized how easy it was in that kind of set-up. He just seasoned it with garlic and rosemary and it was so good." -Lindsey
"I love lamb to the point where Rachel should get jealous." -Joel [Ed. note: Hmmmmm. -Rachel]
"I'm really excited for this lamb" -Lauren