Items you will need
- Acidic marinade
- Fragrant herbs and spices
- Roasting pan
- Digital meat thermometer
Many people avoid lamb simply because it's not particularly popular in the U.S. and because the flavors are much stronger than other common meats. The meat has a bit of a gamey flavor to it, similar to venison, which results in a very strong smell while cooking that might be off-putting. Much of the smell comes from fat and myoglobin -- the red liquid often mistaken for blood -- in the meat, which can be reduced before cooking so the smell isn't as strong. You don't have to use every possible method to reduce the gamey taste. For example, choose only one soaking method between the milk soak and acidic marinade methods. And you might not need to salt the meat if you use other strong spices.
Trim as much fat from the lamb meat as possible, because the fat is where most of the strong odor comes from while cooking.
Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt on all sides and let it rest for about one hour so the salt can draw out the myoglobin. Rinse the salt from the meat before cooking.
Place the lamb in a bowl, cover it with milk and store covered in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The milk draws out some of the strong, gamey flavors, and is also frequently used to reduce the gamey taste in venison.
Marinade the lamb overnight or for several hours in an acidic marinade that contains either vinegar or citrus juice in addition to oil and spices. Lemon juice works particularly well for removing the smell while also adding good flavor and helping to tenderize the meat.
Season the lamb with fragrant herbs and spices that can help hide any gamey smell or taste in the lamb. Try a wet rub made from pureed roasted garlic and mint, two flavors commonly used for cooking lamb. You might also try a spritz of lemon juice and sprigs of rosemary pushed into the meat.
Roast the meat in a roasting pan or cook it on a grill, which cooks the meat with dry heat. While braising is a common preparation method for lamb, it encourages steaming from the meat, which puts more of the lamb smell out into the air. Roast until the lamb reaches a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-well to well. Rare lamb should be removed at about 120 F, 130 F for medium rare, and about 135 F to 140 F for medium. Check the temperature with an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
- FoodSafety.gov: Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures
- Purdue University Department of Agriculture: Lamb: Good for You!
- Project Foodie: Breaking Down the Lamb
- Chef Michael's BBQ Blog: My Best Secrets to Grilled Lamb Chops
- University of Minnesota Extension: Gamey Flavor and Cooking Venison
- Serious Eats: The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Buying, Storing, and Cooking a Leg of Lamb
- Fine Cooking: Lamb Stew with Flageolets and Herbs
- Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images