Now Playing: My baaaaad carnivorous behavior
"Man was put on this earth to eat meat ... The Bible says so, dumbbell ... I mean look it up will ya? All them old bible peoples, they was always eating meat; soon as they found out eating apples was wrong ... It's true, on special occasions: goats and lambs. Who the hell ever hear of sacrificing a head of lettuce? You?"
--Carroll O' Connor as Archie Bunker
This weekend I'll be doing a cooking demonstration using lamb, the meatiest of meats and one of my favorites. It will be at the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival, where most attendees will be coming to fondle soft, colorful wool, not to taste heavy lamb stew at 10 a.m.
But it will be fun anyway. I'll be using a relatively cheap cut that wouldn't roast well, but will simmer slow and moist to a state of juicy succulence, full of mouth pleasing texture and flavor. It will probably be a Spanish stew, and it turns out that the meat I'll be using is from Merino lambs, a Spanish breed.
I just wrote a "Ravenous" column about lamb, and I didn't have enough space to include everything that I want to say about a topic that I'm so passionate about that I could write a book about it. But since lamb has so many detractors, maybe no one would buy it. But I think that can change. I have faith that lamb's popularity will someday approach that of the rest of the world. It's just too damn delicious.
The very thought of lamb evokes Mediterranean hills dotted with peaceful, grazing sheep, in parts of the world where grazing lands are too sparse or steep for beef cattle, in lamb-loving lands like France, Italy, Greece, Spain and North Africa.
Cost-effective and practical as they are delicious, sheep can survive in many climates and landforms. Additional bonuses are that the milk makes a tasty cheese (the subject of my 1 p.m. cooking demo) and the wool can also be used for clothing.
Like in China, where the word "meat" means pork, in the Middle East the same word stands in for both meat and sheep meat.
Since times B.C., lamb has been considered the festival and holiday meat for religious ceremonies and rituals: think sacrificial lamb. In 7th century Persia, lamb was marinated in pomegranate juice or yogurt to tenderize it. Medieval court cooks stewed it in wine or ale or pounded the meat to a puree and mixed it with eggs, spices and marrow.
The diet of a lamb affects its taste, so whether it feeds on grass or grain, its meat can be sweet or gamy. The meat's flavor can be affected by herbs in the grass, the vegetation of a French salt marsh, even the kind of water it drinks, some say.
I love to marinate lamb, but what comes from a really good naturally raised animal is so exquisite-tasting it doesn't need a lot of embellishments.
Lamb is "at once delicate and rich with faintly musky undertones" said Time-Life's Lamb in 1981.
I would love to go all out, lamb-wise, and stuff and roast a foresaddle of lamb, the front half, that serves 20, or a baron, the hind end. But lacking lots of lamb-loving friends (and lots of cash) I will have to console myself with simple lamb preparations like savory stews and marinated chops and these simple tasty grilled burgers made with ground lamb.
Lamburgers with Fresh Herbs
1 to 1-1/4 pounds ground lamb
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and spearmint
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Pita bread or rolls such as Kaiser
1 cucumber, seeded and grated or minced
Mix all but last three ingredients together gently but well. Shape into four patties and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. Grill over charcoal until cooked medium and serve in pita bread or on rolls with the fluff scooped out, topped with dollops of the yogurt spiked with the cucumber.