Lamb is a very flavorful meat, and usually tender because the animals are young. This makes most lamb suitable for grilling or roasting, techniques that allow for a juicy medium-rare result. Lamb also lends itself to long, slow cooking, which is how it's normally prepared in the Middle East, India and many parts of the Mediterranean. Various slow-cooking methods allow the busy home cook to get other tasks done while dinner is cooking.
Choosing a Cut
Choosing a cut for slow-cooking requires a change of thinking. Most of the time, shopping for meat means looking for cuts that are tender, with limited quantities of fat and the smallest possible amount of tough connective tissue. For slow cooking, those criteria are reversed. Tough cuts with lots of connective tissue and a reasonable amount of fat are best, because they become tender and juicy when cooked. Avoid rib and loin cuts, and look instead for shoulder, leg or shank. The fat will largely cook out, but it leaves the meat moist and richly flavored.
Slow Roasting and Braising
Slow roasting and braising are excellent methods for preparing a large piece of lamb, such as a full bone-in leg, or cooking enough smaller pieces for a large group. In each case, cook the lamb in a covered roaster at low temperature, no more than 325 degrees Fahrenheit, until it is fully cooked and fork-tender. With braising, the lamb rests in a cooking liquid -- such as beef broth -- that tenderizes and adds flavor. Slow roasting omits the liquid. Whenever possible, brown the lamb before slow-roasting it for added flavor.
A slow-cooker provides an even more convenient method for preparing lamb for your family dinner. Set the heat to high or low as directed in a given recipe, and go on with your day as the meat cooks. Traditional round cookers will accommodate a roast large enough to feed an average family, and the larger oval models can fit an entire leg of lamb. Cooking the lamb in a slow-cooker is equivalent to braising, because even if you don't add a cooking liquid, the lamb's own juices will pool in the pot and provide the same effect.
Slow-cooking lamb results in some very flavorful cooking juices, ideal for making sauces or gravies. The combination of intensely flavored sauce and rich lamb is a splendid match with a soft-textured side dish, such as mashed potatoes, risotto or soft polenta. Save time and cleaning by cooking your vegetables alongside the lamb, pot-roast style. Not only will they share the flavors of the meat, they'll be cooked to a comparable degree of tenderness. For contrast, serve a green salad with a light creamy dressing as a starter.
- "Professional Cooking"; Wayne Gisslen; 2003
- "A New Book of Middle Eastern Food"; Claudia Roden; 1985
- Crock-Pot.com: Herbed Roasted Lamb
- Food Network; Slow-Roasted Parchment-Wrapped Leg of Lamb with Garlic and Herbs; Rachel Ray
- Epicurious; Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic and Rosemary; Lora Brody; February 2001
- "Fine Cooking": Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint and Lemon; Jennifer McLagan; March 2010
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.