Lamb is an increasingly popular choice for chefs as well as consumers both dining out and eating in.
Menu Matters reports that there’s been a 14 per cent increase in lamb in casual dining over the last 10 years and a 19 per cent increase in quick-service in just the last four years, demonstrating that lamb has moved beyond its fine-dining-only stature in North America. Meanwhile, more than 50 per cent of retailers across the U.S. report an increase in purchases.
As lamb becomes more familiar to consumers and in higher demand, now is the perfect time for chefs and restaurants to start sourcing the best lamb product in the world.
If you read our previous article on Australian lamb, you already know that the land “down under” produces the highest-quality lamb that is available to Canadian chefs. Climate-neutral, pasture-raised, all-natural, and free of artificial additives, Australian lamb’s commitment to quality, integrity, and sustainable production makes a first-class addition to any menu.
No more same-old, same-old
Chefs are constantly striving to give guests the innovation they’re craving, and Australian lamb is the perfect way to add a new dimension to a menu.
A host of chefs recently learned this firsthand at the Culinary Vegetable Institute and The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. Over two days, chefs including Canadian culinarians Matt Rosen, Kim Sutherland, Marc Swiednicki, and Chad Stewart spent time on the farm learning about the many ways that Australian lamb can be utilized to mouthwatering effect.
“Australian lamb has more depth – generations of farming the Aussie way is what really shines through in the final product,” says Stewart. “It’s a great alternative to beef – it can hold up to spices and marinades really well without losing the earthy undertones in the meat.”
Introducing lamb can breathe new life into a menu, substituting a more typical protein, or in an entirely new dish. Lamb doesn’t have to be consigned to a rack of lamb or roasted chops, either. With Australian lamb’s mild and delicious flavour, there is a world of opportunities at your hands.
Rosen adds that while there can be a tendency to think of lamb as “an upper-echelon and almost unobtainable ingredient”, the possibilities are endless.
“We all love rack of lamb and chops, but Aussie lamb is perfect to use in so many ways,” Rosen says. “Sometimes it’s just a question of opening your eyes. It’s easy to branch out and incorporate lamb into classic recipes and add another layer of flavour that is ready to be built in immediately. The lamb has such a great flavour to it that all you’re doing is dancing with it.”
Sutherland notes that although the focus on rack of lamb during chefs’ early education can threaten to stifle creativity, thinking outside the box can bring delicious rewards.
“There’s a lack of awareness of anything other than a rack or a leg of lamb,” she added. “We like to explore different cuts and stay away from the rack – that makes it more inviting and exciting to experiment and try new things. Even just taking ground lamb as an example – we all know how to use ground meat, but there are so many possibilities.”
Broadening lamb’s horizons
With the casualization of menus and the demand for flavour-forward food, lamb is now starring in everything from burgers to salads and tacos to bowls. The dishes cooked by the chefs individually on-site in Ohio showcased the versatility of Australian lamb and how a little bit of creative thinking goes a long way.
Rosen cooked a citrus honey-glazed roasted lamb loin, Stewart harissa, garum, and honey-glazed lamb, Sutherland created a vegemite and seed-crusted braised lamb shank, and Swiednicki a T-bone lamb steak marinated in a jerk rub and finished with a honey jerk glaze.
These were all great examples of how to utilize Australian lamb’s quality and taste in new ways, but these dishes barely scratch the surface of the potential.
“Lamb has so many opportunities to shine now more than ever,” says Stewart. “Most recently, I used Aussie lamb ribs, treating them similarly to pork ribs – they could stand up to wood-fire cooking really well. Braised Aussie lamb shank or shoulder in a grilled taco is amazing in the warmer months and slow-cooking stews and pasta in the winter – it’s so elegant!”
Swiednicki finds jerk seasoning and Mediterranean spices to be matches made in heaven.
“I’m using so many parts of the lamb now,” he says. “We’re doing different things in the restaurant: some lamb tongue that we’re using on a charcuterie board, my own jerk-spiced lamb neck as a special. I’ve been using a lot of Mediterranean spices and Turkish spices on my lamb; it works so well.”
Think Sloppy Joes or poutines are just for beef or pork? Think again, says Sutherland.
“I love the lamb Sloppy Joe, it’s the most delicious thing ever! I can’t stop telling people about it. Ground lamb, not necessarily in a burger form, and all the lamb charcuterie meats would totally change the game for a lot of restaurants. Sausage rolls, poutine – lamb would be perfect for poutine.”
Meanwhile, for Rosen, it’s all about the cold cuts.
“I love slow-roasting a lamb leg and shaving it for cold cuts, it’s so little work and a delicious way to use it,” he says. “You get those good chops that have the little riblets on the end – they are worth fighting for! I love toasted fennel seeds ground, chucked with salt, pepper, and parsley, and a bit of good olive oil and lemon zest over that charred lamb. It’s otherworldly and those are the things you’re not going to get with beef or pork.”
Ultimately, though, there is no need to reinvent the wheel: the quality and taste of Australian lamb can also elevate tried-and-tested classics or on-trend items to another level using adaptable and simple techniques that chefs are doing every day.
“It’s very easy to integrate lamb into something that we would have used for any other meat,” concludes Sutherland. “You don’t necessarily have to reinvent all the spices and seasonings. It’s just taking the things we know and love and introducing the highest-quality lamb as the centrepiece.”