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Celebrate Easter and Spring with Roast Lamb

Though ham is the most popular main course for Easter Day dinners in the U.S., there was a time when lamb was the meat of choice. In most countries in Europe, lamb is still the centerpiece at Easter dinner, especially in the Mediterranean countries, like Greece. It is also a popular Passover food.

The tradition of eating lamb at Easter had its origins way before modern animal husbandry techniques allowed for lambs to be born year around. It used to be that new lambs were generally born around March, just in time for the Easter season and in accordance with the natural breeding cycle of sheep.

In the United States, lamb is now served in restaurants more often than in the past few decades, and for those who enjoy it, it’s a menu item they can’t pass up. Those who are unfamiliar with the taste may be a little surprised as to the flavor and it’s generally a food for which individuals may need to acquire a taste. Prepared and cooked correctly, however, spring lamb is tasty and lean and it comes in a variety of cuts, from chops to whole roasts that can accommodate a large dinner party.

Cuts of Lamb

There are five basic cuts into which the lamb is separated. These include the rack, shank/breast, shoulder, loin, and leg. The rack is what you would most often serve at a party. This is a rib roast that includes ribs 6 through 12 of the animal. A “crown roast” – that fancy circular roast you’ll see in cookbooks – is actually two of these rib roasts put together to form a circle. You will often see the crown roast “frenched”, which means the meat is taken off the bones that stick up out of the top of the roast. It looks more elegant this way, but lamb aficionados will tell you that it is wasteful and they enjoy eating the meat around the bones.

You can also buy chops from the rib portion as well as the loin, and less expensive chops from the leg or shoulder cut. The rib and loin chops are best but the others are fine if cooked correctly and preferably not above medium rare, after which they become quite tough.

Cooking Lamb

Like most roasts you make for holiday dinners, it does take some time for lamb to be cooked properly, so plan accordingly to ensure it’s done in time for your meal.
If you’re opting for a crown roast, have your butcher tie the two rib roasts together for you. If you choose to have it “frenched”, ask him to save the trimmings and grind them for you so you can make lamb patties for later use. A 3- to 4-pound crown roast will yield about 16-18 chops, which easily serves 8 or 9 people. It should take about 45-60 minutes to cook, or about 15-20 minutes per pound. If you’re using a meat thermometer, check for doneness with temperatures at about 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 for medium. Rare or even raw lamb is safe as long as it has been properly refrigerated before cooking, but medium rare is best, say those who enjoy this dish.

If you’re cooking another cut, you’ll find that cooking time is similar with the exception of a boneless leg roast, which should cook more quickly. To roast a spring leg of lamb, brush it with olive it, season it as you please, and put it in a roasting pan with the fatty side up. A half-leg of about 3 pounds will take approximately 1.5 hours to cook to medium rare. You’ll find that the shank portion will cook more quickly than the other “chump” portion because it has no bone, so monitor the meat carefully to avoid overcooking.


ericharoy's picture

by ericharoy

Fri, 2011-12-02 04:19

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