What to buy now: Lamb

If you tend to go straight for familiar beef and pork cuts at the meat case, here’s a tip that can save you money and give your taste buds a treat: Try some lamb. It’s super-cheap right now because spring is lamb season.

Pretty much anything you can do with beef and pork, you can do with lamb, including juicy roasts, bubbling pots of chili, spicy juicy roasts, bubbling pots of chili, spicy curries, meatballs to top pasta or polenta, and even burgers and lasagna. Rib and loin cuts (racks and chops) are yummy and can be cooked quickly. Also keep an eye out for equally tasty but less expensive shoulder cut s – chops, shanks, and stew meat. The trade-off is time. The cheaper cuts are tougher and chewier and will need to be braised or coked very slowly at low temperatures until tender.

When shopping for lamb, check for a USDA Prime or Choice label, which will point you to a succulent, well-marbled (with streaks of fat running through it) cut of meat. You might also notice that cuts of lamb can come from America, New Zealand, or Australia. The country of origin won’t affect the flavor as much as what the lamb is fed. Grass-fed lamb tends to have a gamier, richer flavor and a steeper price than grain-fed lamb, which is milder. As a cooking rule of thumb, balance gamier flavors with robust seasonings such as garlic, mustard, rosemary, and sage. Lamb also stands up well to spics like curry, chili, cumin, and cinnamon.

Nutritionally, all lamb is packed with protein, zinc, and B vitamins, and has only about 175 calories per 3-ounce serving, compared with 290 for a similar portion of beef. For the leanest eating, stick to leg, rib, and loin cuts. Here are some other lamb tips:

  • Pick a good one. Look for fine-textured meat with pink to ruby coloring, white marbling, and firm fat trim that’s not too thick.
  • Size it right. Per serving, you’ll need to buy about three small rib chops, ¼ pound ground or stew meat, ½ pound boneless roast, or ¾ to 1 pound bone-in roast.
  • Prep like a pro. Trim visible fat to ¼ to 1/8 inch. For safe eating, cook roasts and chops to an internal temp of 145F on a meat thermometer; cook ground lamb to 160F.
  • Store it right. You can keep ground lamb or stew meat refrigerated for up to two days; use chops and roasts within three to five days. Freeze lamb in its packaging in a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Use within three to four months.
  • Chef’s trick: Spicy meatballs

Make meatballs with ground lamb and a mixture of pine nuts, onion, garlic, dried currants, and fragrant spices like cumin and cinnamon. Roll them into golf-ball-sized rounds, skewers them, and bakes, grills, or broils them until cooked through. Serve them with a dipping sauce of plain yogurt, mint, and lemon juice.

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