May 18, 2006

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Adorable and delicious
The other red meat is a juicy, tender taste of spring
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

For many of us, the lamb we had growing up was tough, chewy and gamey.

Often meant to be a centerpiece of a spring Sunday dinner, it was misunderstood because it was rarely prepared and when it was, it had an unpalatable toughness. Unless you grew up in a Greek family who knew how to prepare lamb.

Lamb today is much more than a special-occasion dish — think rack of lamb — or a main course for a spring holiday. Because of progressive animal husbandry, lamb is now available year-round and finding its way into everything from ravioli and ragus to kabobs on the grill.

“Forget your mother’s lamb, it is a whole new ball game,” laughed Dave Valicenti, chef at Michael Timothy’s in Nashua.

Valicenti’s early memories of lamb are not pleasant. The kitchen smelled bad (from the fat) and the roast, despite being lovingly tended to, was chewy and unappetizing.

“I tell the staff to educate customers about lamb. To tell customers that we cook it only as much as we have to in order to keep it juicy and tender,” he said.

At Michael Timothy’s, spring lamb is stuffed with artichokes, leeks, green olives and flash-fried chick peas and served with a red wine balsamic jus ($27).

“I think lamb will start to be big, as people realize that there are methods of cooking lamb besides roasting. People are always looking for something new,” Valicenti said.

If what is old is new again, hopefully it comes back improved.

At Cotton in Manchester, chef and owner Jeff Paige is a big fan of lamb. He doesn’t have memories of overcooked childhood lamb roasts, but instead discovered lamb while traveling in Italy.

“I fell in love with lamb and always feature it,” Paige said. “It is so versatile. Forget the lamb of the 1970s and 1980s, it was terrible. Today’s lamb is lean and not gamey.”

Paige echoes Valicenti in asserting if people discover alternative cooking methods for lamb, especially for the lesser cuts, they will be more likely to get it on the table more often.

“Lamb is expensive. The last thing you want to do is ruin it by overcooking it,” he said.

At Cotton, a wood-grilled lamb sirloin ($21) is served on a bed of pan-roasted potatoes with an almond mint pesto and artichokes.

Paige gets his lamb from a small farm in Colorado. The lamb is feed-fed and free of antibiotics and hormones.

“The lamb from this small producer is amazing. It does not have that funky taste you often get from tough lamb,” Paige said.

Probably the only people with warm memories of lamb are those who grew up in Greek households.
In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Aunt Voula is stunned to hear that her niece’s fiancé is a vegetarian and doesn’t eat meat.

“Oh, that’s OK. I make lamb,” she said.

Jimmy Tentas, owner of Jimmy’s Pizza in Manchester, says that lamb is the alpha and the omega when it comes to dinner.

“All Greeks, they love lamb. It is the number one meal,” said Tentas.

At Jimmy’s Pizza, Tentas serves a popular lamb plate ($13.75). Made from marinated lamb that is cooked on a charcoal grill to order, the meat stays moist and tender.

“It is delicious, I don’t mind saying,” Tentas said.

At Liamos Market in Nashua, owner Mike Katsoupis sells only domestic lamb, because it is lean, and says that over the past few years his business has boomed year round.

“I can’t quantify how much lamb we sell. It is everything from chops to roasts to kabobs. But it is in the mega thousands of pounds,” he said.

Katsoupis said that people need to take care with lamb and cook it based on the cut they have. If there is fat, be careful not to burn.

“Often people just don’t know how to cook it. So we try to educate. We are the lamb people,” he said.

In Manchester, Bakolos Market has been selling lamb for more than 30 years. George Gasis marinates lamb kabobs ($8.99 per lb. average) that can either be served skewered or as small succulent bites. Call ahead and George will season a leg of lamb ($4.29 lb average), wrap it and it will be oven ready for you.

Location is everything with lamb. Chefs and lamb merchants passionately debate whether American or New Zealand lamb is better. The only thing they seem to agree on is that Australian lamb, often found in box supermarkets, is a poor choice.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at hippoflea.com  


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