Give lamb a go

Sep. 10, 2013 @ 11:36 AM

Some folks love it; others can't stand it.
What is it?
By the numbers, few folks like lamb, let alone love it, and over the past 40 years we've come to like it even less.
Here's what's happened.
In the early 1970s Americans annually consumed an average of 3 pounds of lamb; a gnat on an elephant's rump when compared to the 90-plus pounds of beef that were consumed back then.
Over the next 40 years, chicken beat the feathers off beef consumption, going from 33 pounds in 1980 to 56 pounds by 2009, while during that same time, beef consumption sank to 58 pounds and lamb dropped to just 13 ounces. That's no typo — 13 ounces.
What's not to like about lamb?
Lamb's lean, averaging 8 fat grams (3.2 grams saturated) per 3-ounce portion. A 3-ounce, lean-only serving (trimmed of all visible fat) can deliver as little as (before cooking) 5.3 grams which works out to 35.5-percent calories from fat. So lamb's fall from grace can't be about its nutritional content.
Perhaps its slide has to do with from where lamb comes?
When it comes to the differences between New Zealand and Australian lamb versus American lamb it all comes down to size, taste and price.
Imported lamb comes from smaller, mostly grass-fed lambs that produce meat which tastes slightly gamier (stronger flavored) than American lamb.
American lamb tends to come from the largest animals, and since it's finished on grain, it's milder in flavor and usually well-marbled (read, higher in fat).
Even though it's imported, New Zealand and Australian lamb generally costs less than American lamb.
Perhaps there's also a cuteness-factor at play here?
When I first met my wife, she wouldn't have anything to do with lamb. To her, lambs were cute little furry animals, young sheep. She said her mom never cooked lamb for dinner arguing that since they give us wool they've given enough. (Yet cows also give us milk and leather, so I'm not sure how she reconciled that.)
As for me, I've loved lamb all my life. I had Greek friends who made one of the finest legs of lamb I ever tasted by inserting garlic cloves all over the leg before roasting. Grilled shoulder lamb chops cooked to just pink in the center and seasoned simply with salt and pepper make a wonderful foundation for dinner. Hold the mint jelly, please.
My favorite preparation is a lamb shank slowly braised in red wine until it's succulent and falling off the bone. Add steamed new potatoes with a whisper of butter and a green vegetable ... yummmm.
If you don't want the hassle-factor of braising or roasting look for lean ground lamb. Grilled lamb burgers, finished with a smear of sharp mustard are absolutely delicious.
If it's been a while since you've had lamb on your menu, give my grilled gyros sausages a try as the weather begins to cool down. Perhaps lamb isn't as baa-d as you thought.

Don Mauer’s Grilled Gyros Sandwiches

1 pound ground lamb (the leaner, the better)
1 pound 93 percent lean ground beef
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (from about 3 slices)
6 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
2 medium-large garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
8 whole-grain hot dog buns

Break ground lamb and beef up into tablespoon-size pieces, adding to a large mixing bowl as you go. Add the bread crumbs, parsley, egg and egg white, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and using a fork or clean hands, combine the mixture well.
When combined, divide into eight equal portions and form into sausage shapes slightly longer than the bun length. Grill or broil until nicely browned on all sides and the center of each sausage reaches 160-degrees.
Smear 2 tablespoons tzatziki sauce (see below) on inside of each bun, place one sausage in each bun and serve immediately. Serves eight.
Nutrition values per serving (without sauce): 318 calories (29.7 percent from fat), 10.5 g fat (3.4 g saturated fat), 27.5 g carbohydrates, 3.3 g fiber, 28.9 g protein, 80 mg cholesterol, 911 mg sodium.
SaltSense: Omitting the added salt reduces the sodium per serving to 330 milligrams.

Tzatziki (Cucumber-Yogurt) Sauce

1 large English (hot house, seedless) cucumber, shredded
1 1/2 cups plain fat-free or low-fat Greek-style yogurt
1 small onion, chopped fine
1-3 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Place shredded cucumbers in a colander with a dish on top to weight them down, and let them drain for an hour. Squeeze the cucumber shreds in batches between the palms of your hand until as dry as possible and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add yogurt, onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and combine well. Refrigerate, covered, for an hour before serving. Serve chilled. Makes about 3 cups.
Nutrition values per 2 tablespoons (using fat-free yogurt and no added salt): 19 calories(29 percent from fat), 0.6 g fat(0.1 g saturated fat), 2.2 g carbohydrates, 0.1 g fiber, 1 g protein, >1 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium.

Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at