Beginner cooks tend to shy away from lamb, but buying, preparing and cooking lamb is actually quite easy — and more versatile than you may think. Plus, recently breeding and feeding methods have improved the quality of lamb available in the U.S., which means less of that gamey aroma and flavor, according to Adam Matthews, store manager of Fleisher’s in Brooklyn, whose pasture-raised, grain-finished lamb is super tender and mild — definitely not your grandmother’s mutton.
If cooking lamb is new territory for you, here are five cuts that are best to start out with: rib chop, loin chop, sirloin steak, stew meat and ground meat.
1. Ground Lamb
As with all ground meats, lamb shouldn’t be over-handled. “It’ll get tough,” says Lobel, “So use a gentle touch and I like to only seasoning the outside.” He also recommends cooking a lamb patty a little more than you would a beef patty, medium instead of medium-rare, for about 7 to 11 minutes. Lamb is also a great candidate for kebabs and bologneses.
2. Rib Chops
Rib chops are cut from the center rib section of the lamb and usually come with a long rib bone attached to the end. While not the meatiest of the chops, tenderness and a smooth flavor make them a prized cut. Evan Lobel, co-owner of Lobel’s of New York, says they’re easy to cook because all you need is a hot skillet (he prefers cast iron). “Just a few minutes on each side, and they’re good to go,” he says. “Opt for a one-inch-thick cut; thicker than that and you increase the risk of over-cooking or under-cooking.”
3. Loin Chops
Cut between the ribs and the leg, loin chops look like mini T-bone steaks and tend to be meatier than rib chops. While not as tender as rib chops, loin chops also have that smooth flavor. This is a good choice when you’re looking for a hearty dinner. Matthews suggests searing them in a hot skillet (a couple minutes each side) and finishing in the oven, set at 325°F for about 15 minutes.
4. Sirloin Steak
This larger, meatier, leaner cut is best marinated in advance. “Novices tend to like throwing stuff on the grill, and this is perfect for just that,” says Lobel. “Cook it for five minutes and call it a day.” Other options are to slice it into slivers and stir-fry it Asian-style or cut it into cubes for kebobs.
5. Stew Meat
This boneless shoulder cut tends to be tougher than chops, which requires a longer cooking time. Matthews likes simmering this cut low and slow (like one-to-two-hours slow) with Middle Eastern or Indian seasonings.
Whichever cut of lamb you choose, select the best quality you can find by heeding Lobel’s shopping tips:
- Look for meat that has a soft pink color with white marbling — the fat that gives lamb its incredible flavor. Once lamb turns deep red, it means it’s old.
- The flesh should be fine textured and firm, like the pad of your palm.
- Any fat surrounding the lamb should be a milky white not yellow.
- If it’s wrapped in packaging, make sure there’s no moisture trapped in there. It could mean it was frozen and thawed out, not freshly butchered.
- Store raw lamb in the refrigerator immediately after purchasing. Use ground lamb or stew meat within two days. Lamb chops should be used within three to five days.