Lamb Is the Easy Weeknight Dinner Solution You've Been Looking For
Don't save this delicious meat for spring holidays! Instead, try preparing these more affordable cuts any day of the week.
If you think lamb is only for Easter, think again. While it's true that 20 percent of lamb is eaten during the spring holidays, and a leg or rack of lamb makes for an impressive special occasion meal, there's no reason not to enjoy lamb all year round. That's right, lamb is not just for celebrations; if you ask us, it's actually a stellar choice for weeknight meals. Choosing where your lamb comes from is the first decision you'll need to make; typically, you'll find lamb from the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia.
Why do we love lamb for weeknight meals? First and foremost, you should know that lamb contains four times more iron than chicken and twice the amount found in pork; it also provides many essential nutrients, including zinc, and B vitamins. Sophina Uong, the chef and owner of Mister Mao in New Orleans, a Chopped Grill Masters champion, and a three-time winner of Lamb Jam San Francisco, is a fan of lamb, but says she knows that many home cooks aren't. "I think most folks are afraid to embrace lamb because of that so called gaminess, the rich intensity of the lamb fat as it renders, is off putting to them," she says. "Find a great local butcher who offers American lamb which is grain finished and the result is incredible meat that tends to be sweeter and milder as compared to Australian or New Zealand lamb that has been only been grass fed and has a more earthy, strong pastoral flavor." Of course, there's a tradeoff, as grass fed lamb is particularly high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but regardless of where lamb comes from, lean cuts are healthy.
Weeknight meals need to be quick, easy, and budget friendly. The right cuts of lamb can fit the bill. Here's what to shop for.
For quick cooking cuts, it's hard to beat lamb chops. Says Uoung, "Lamb chops are easy to marinate for a quick meal the next day but be sure to use a low acid marinade if [doing so] overnight. I love cooking cumin and fennel salt marinated lamb chops on our cast-iron grill pan because it's quick, the smokiness pairs perfectly with sweet summer tomatoes." Another one of Uong's favorite cuts is lamb noisettes, also known as boneless lamb chops or sirloins. According to Uong, "This cut is easily marinated, pan seared, and roasted to medium rare for thin slicing across the grain and devouring with lots of herbaceous green harissa, pomegranate salsa, or with oranges, green olives, grilled dates, mint, and Spanish sherry vinegar."
Lamb Shoulder, Shank, and Neck
Lamb shoulder is typically less expensive than leg of lamb, but cooking requires the right technique. Uong advises, "If you partially freeze lamb shoulder, you can slice the lamb very thinly and marinate with Korean gochujang, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil for a fun Korean BBQ at home using a cast-iron skillet or grill pan. Use this same marinade and lamb method for taco night with a twist, just change up the toppings." Another fan of lamb shoulder is Chandra Ram, the author of The Complete Indian Instant Pot Cookbook ($24.95, amazon.com). She says, "I think a lot of people aren't sure what to do with lamb other than roast lamb chops or a big leg of lamb, and so they think of it as a special occasion meat instead of something you can cook and eat any night. Some inexpensive cuts are wonderful after they are braised, and the Instant Pot makes braising very weeknight friendly. I mostly use lamb shank, neck, and shoulder; they braise especially well and take to warm spices like clove, cumin, black pepper, cardamom and cinnamon, and spice blends like garam masala."
Using the Instant Pot is one of the secrets to making less expensive cuts tender and delicious in no time flat. "Simply cut the lamb into pieces, season and pressure cook with a little water and aromatics or stock. You can get creative with your aromatics and braising liquid; I created a recipe for lamb stew made with black tea and a chopped orange that is light and full of flavor," says Ram. Lamb biryani is another of her favorites. "It's impressive enough for a dinner party, but very doable in the Instant Pot," she explains.
Last but not least, don't forget ground lamb. It's generally more expensive than ground beef but still a smart choice for weeknight meals. Ground lamb can usually be used mixed with ground beef in almost any recipes calling for ground beef. It's also perfect for quick-cooking dishes like lamb burgers, kofta, and Italian-style meatballs, which are particularly kid friendly.