Many people find it exciting and maybe even a bit nerve-racking when trying a new lamb recipe. It is very easy to overcook or undercook lamb. But no matter what your recipe is, there are a few essential tips to cooking a great piece of lamb:
Ask Butcher About the Cut of Lamb
You may not see the piece of lamb that you want when you get to the grocery store. Often the store can special order it or can cut if for you the way you want. They also may be able to direct you to a butcher who can provide you with good lamb. Not every grocery store carries good lamb.
Keep Your Lamb Moist
Many types of lamb do not have a great deal of marbling, so it can get dry or tough at lower temperatures than many beef and pork cuts. You should experiment with how done you like your lamb. It is a good idea to always baste or cook it with a solution of broth to maintain moisture in the lamb. Generally, we recommend cooking lamb to a medium rare finish, about 145 degrees F. This will help to give it the best flavor and moisture.
Rub In Seasonings
One of the best things about lamb is how great simple seasonings work with it. This is especially the case if you buy a large raw leg of lamb. You can just brush your leg of lamb with olive oil and then rub on your favorite dry seasoning. We like garlic salt or special seasoning blends you can buy at the store. We also like to use rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, lemon zest, cumin or mint. Before you rub in the seasonings, you should trim off the excess fat and any skin that has a silver shade.
If you want to get the maximum flavor from your rub, put the meat in tight plastic wrap and put it in the fridge over night.
Another great way to season your leg of lamb is to make small cuts in the meat surface and to put slivers of herbs and garlic into the cuts. This is a good thing to do right before you start roasting. Or, you can do this a day ahead for more robust flavors. Remember to not add salt until right before you cook it. Adding salt too long before cooking can pull the moisture out of the meat and make it dry on the plate
Use a Thermometer
Using a good meat thermometer is important with roast of lamb to make sure that you do not overcook or undercook the lamb. For the best temperature, you should put the thermometer in the thickest part of the muscle. Make sure the probe is not against any bone or in a layer of fat.
Even if you are not using a particular recipe, you can get a really good lamb meal if you cook the meat to the correct temperature. Generally, we think that you should pull out your lamb when the internal temperature is about 135 degrees. Then you should cover up the lamb and let it rest for about 10 minutes. The lamb continues to heat for about 10 minutes until it finishes at a good medium rare.
One of the best lamb dishes we ever had was one that cooked the shanks, or the lower part of the leg. This once was thought to be a poor man’s cut. They are rather stringy but very tasty. They do need a great deal of cooking, though. A great way to make these is to marinate them for a few days in vinegar, juniper berries and allspice and then slow cook them in a medium heat oven. Delicious!