In the lamb of luxury
EAT’S EASY - Ernest Reynoso Gala () - February 4, 2010 - 12:00am

In our opinion food should be sniffed lustily at table, both as a matter of precaution and as a matter of enjoyment, the sniffing of it to be regarded in the same light as the tasting of it. — E.B. White (1899-1985), American essayist

Food is not about impressing people. It’s about making them feel comfortable. — Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

On the gourmet scene, lamb is fast becoming popular, attracting food lovers with its rich flavor and versatility, blending with many ingredients. For chefs it is a gastronomic gem, with many methods of cooking to choose from — roasting, stewing, grilling and pan frying — allowing an atmosphere of creativity while satisfying the palate. With more establishments serving this high-quality, nutritious meat, it is no surprise that it has become a house specialty on many menus. The growing clamor and increased awareness has made lamb glamorous, and as demand rises the industry grows, and should be embraced by the local industry.

Sheep is the most popular livestock in the world, and with an array of delicious cuts from leg, crown roast, French rib, saddles and rack, its popularity is second to none in many countries. It is categorized according to age, which can be gauged by the number of teeth found in the mouth and actual size. Spring lamb is the most popular with ages ranging from three to 10 months, born in the spring season and slaughtered in the beginning of fall. Its leg weighs close to seven pounds (three kilos). Winter lamb is a little over 11 months and will weigh eight to nine pounds, and is sometimes called a hogget. Mutton is from animals that are at least two years old, and though it has a tougher meat compared to spring or winter lamb, its robust flavor and strong aroma makes it desirable for longer cooking methods such as stewing. When buying a young lamb the meat should be pink, well-marbled flesh, waxy, creamy white fat, with bones red at the joints. The younger the lamb the less muscle content — thus more tender and faster to cook than mutton. It is an excellent source of protein, B complex vitamins, iron, calcium, and potassium. Easy to digest, a 100-gram portion of lean meat can contain 30 grams of protein and five grams of fat.

It is important to note that the secret to cooking lamb is to not overcook it. For roasting, grilling and pan frying, cooking it well done will make it dry, tough, grayish brown in color, stringy, and will deplete a lot of its natural flavor. Slightly undercooking it — or medium rare with a little pink in the middle — gives the best results. The shoulder and neck are used for stews and shish kebabs, and are fantastic substitutes for ribs, which are more expensive and not always available. The most popular cuts are the ribs, often used to make roast rack of lamb. Combining two ribs will form a crown roast. In Moulin de Mougins, the famous French restaurant where I studied located near Cannes, France, Alain Llorca expertly showed Carlo Benedicto and me how the meat or “eyes” are removed from the rack and cut into thick pieces called medallions, pan fried and served with a sauce. This method is very appealing to the eye, and demands a high price as it uses the most expensive cut and requires skill in butchery to keep the meat intact. The loin or the lower back section is the most tender, and putting two loins together is called a saddle. One saddle with two legs is called a baron while noisettes are boned loin lamb chops trimmed of all fat, pan broiled and served with béarnaise sauce. Most familiar is the leg, with the bones cracked by the butcher for easier carving. Fell, or the parchment tissue around the leg, is sometimes removed though many cultures leave it because it holds the leg in shape and has a strong flavor. The leg is also cubed to make shish kebab. Shank or front leg is tougher, and requires slow cooking or a pressure cooker to tenderize the meat. The breast is full of flavor and is usually stuffed with meat, similar to veal (young cow). Ground lamb often replaces ground beef, and is very juicy when not overcooked with some fat retained.

Henrie Chavarria’s Lamb Shanks

1) 4 pieces lamb shanks to total 2 kilos, 1/2 cup pounded garlic with skin on (1 big head), 1/2 cup each minced violet onions, chopped celery, chopped carrots, orange juice, chili catsup, 1 tbsp. liquid seasoning.

2) Gravy: Drippings in pan, 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 2 cups water, reserved marinade from lamb.

3) Procedure: put all of number 1 in a bowl and marinate for 8 hours in the refrigerator, turn every 2 hours.

4) Put lamb shanks in a roasting pan (reserve marinade from lamb for the gravy). Roast at 325ºF or 160ºC for 1 hour for rare (140ºF when poked with insta-read thermometer), 1 hour 15 minutes for medium (160ºF); 1 hour and 30 minutes for well done (170ºF).

5) Gravy: Set aside lamb shanks on serving platter. Add flour to roasting pan. Put pan over low fire and scrape off brown bits to mix with the flour. Pour all at once the water and marinade. Increase fire and mix with wire whisk until boiling. Put in gravy boat.

6) Served with baked or boiled potatoes, cooked carrots, peas and corn. 

Chef Ern’s New Top 6 Lamb Restaurants

1) Old Vine Grill. The lamb in Curry sauce is my all-time favorite, tender, full of flavor with no smell. This restaurant is value for money. Located at the ground floor Eastwood Mall. Quezon City. For reservations call 706-5573 to 74.

2) Enchante. Chef Jessie Sincioco always cooks up a storm and her lamb is no exception. Juicy and full of flavor, this leg of lamb is perfectly seasoned and does melt in your mouth. Located at the third floor of Oakwood Suites, 17 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City. For reservations call 637- 7888.

3) Highlands Steakhouse, Tagaytay Highlands. The roast lamb racks are really thick, juicy, and balanced in taste. Just right and perfectly cooked this restaurant always makes you go back for more! Located at Belleview Drive Tagaytay City, Cavite. For reservations call (046) 483-0820.

4) The Fireplace, Hyatt Hotel and Casino. Their rack of lamb is always cooked in the same consistent manner, as the chef has mastered the art of properly bringing out the natural flavor without overpowering it with spices. Located at 5/F Hyatt Hotel and Casino, 1588 Pedro Gil cor. MH Del Pilar, Malate Manila, Metro Manila. For reservations call 245-1234.

5) Prince Albert Rotisserie. The oven-roasted rack of lamb is still one of the best. Tender and never overcooked this restaurant has made this dish one of the crowd favorites among its guests. Located at the Hotel Intercontinental Manila, Ayala Avenue, Makati City. For reservations call 815-9711.

6) Nuvo. Unique, well seasoned and will tantalize your taste buds, the crusted lamb chops will surely make you lick your lips in anticipation as this dish is a crowd pleaser among its clientele. Located at the G/F Greenbelt 2, Ayala Center Makati City, Metro Manila. For reservations call 757-3699.

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