Lamb leg steak

IMG_8327I’m an omnivore–and that definitely includes meat in judicious amounts. Lamb shoulder chops get frequent use in my kitchen since they are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and tasty. Lamb chops or a rack appear seldom, unfortunately, since they are expensive; braised shank will appear occasionally, but leg of lamb almost never–unless I’ve organized my self to invite lamb-loving friends to share.  Even a half leg is just not in the single-serving category, so much as I like it, I don’t get it very often.

On a recent quick stop at the grocery store, I found a lamb leg steak! Fortuitous since I just happen to have made a batch of  ratatouille (slow-cooker testing of a recipe) and somehow those two thing are appealing together.  That lovely steak is going to be cooked indoors since it’s grey outside with spatterings of rain off and on–comforting sound on the metal roofing, suggesting a lazy day.

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single-burner griddleThe omnipresent cast-iron griddle is my instrument of choice for cooking steaks or chops indoors. For steaks or chops that are up to an inch in thickness–or perhaps just a tad more–I like to cook them with the method described by Jamie Oliver for pork neck steak.

This 1-inch steak weighs in at just under a pound, so there will be leftovers, but as with beef steaks this isn’t a problem–easy to find uses for the leftovers before they spend enough time in the refrigerator to taste like something that has been in the refrigerator. Though this steak could be cooked right out of the package without any preparation, I’m going to give it just a bit of pretreatment.

Cook’s Illustrated (and America’s Test Kitchen) have repeatedly demonstrated that brining or salting improve texture and taste of meats. Salting has the advantage of not requiring planning–and it’s easier.  The usual procedure is to sprinkle with lamb leg steak saltedkosher salt and allow to stand at room temperature for an hour. I’ve found that salting and allowing to stand in the refrigerator overnight works well–I can prep my chop or steak immediately on bringing it into to the kitchen and it will be ready for later. The suggested amount of salt is 3/4 teaspoon for each 8 ounces of weight.

(This doesn’t call for a measuring device at all;  two good three-fingered pinches, sprinkled from way above so that it spreads out evenly.  When you see chefs sprinkling something from shoulder height, that’s not showmanship. Sprinkled from that height, the salt crystals have a chance to spread out and not just plop on the steak in one spot.)

Cooking instructions

lamb leg stteak on griddleNotes:  I prefer a griddle (or griddle pan), not a grill pan that has the ridges on it. The griddle will give you browning all over the surface of the meat, not just stripes on it. Stripes are pretty, but all-over sear really tastes better to me.

  • Deactivate the smoke alarm–probably means taking out the battery. This is necessary before you start cooking because you need to be paying close attention while cooking.  (You see the smoke in the picture, right?) There’s no way to do this without it smoking. If you try to do this without smoking, you won’t get the same results.
  • Heat cast-iron griddle (or skillet) over high heat until it’s very hot–you want really high heat. This is why you deactivated the smoke alarm. Test heat by flicking a drop of water onto the griddle–it will sizzle and skitter around hectically, kind of like one of the really supper bouncy balls that my cat plays
  • Pat steak dry and rub with a little oil (not extra-virgin olive oil–the heat will destroy flavor) on both sides.
  • Put steak on the griddle–it should make some noise or the griddle is not hot enough, and cook for two (2) minutes without moving it. Don’t turn the heat down.
  • Turn and cook the other side for two minutes.
  • Return to the first side, and cook for one minute; turn over and cook that side for one minute.
  • Repeat the one-minute cook-and-turn until the steak has been cooked for about 8 to 10 minutes total time. Check with an instant-read thermometer if you  need to (insert through the side of the steak or simply press the surface with a finger. For medium it should feel the same as pressing on the palm of your hand at the base of the thumb).
  • Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes for juices to distribute evenly, then eat!
  • A dollop of gremolata would be a nice touch; you might even add a bit of mint when making the gremolata.

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lamb leg steak on plate with ratatouilleEver since I discovered this technique of cooking 1-inch chops or steaks, it’s all I’ve used for meats. For thicker steaks, I’ll use a combination of pan-searing and oven. I’m sure there’s a good food-science explanation for why this works so well, but I haven’t gone looking for it–I suspect that the heat transfer to the interior of the steak or chop is different than cooking one side at a time, as well as the extremely high heat.

True, the stove will need cleaning after you’ve done this, but the result is well worth it. There is no “overcooked” grey area to this steak. This works well with pork, veal, beef, and the lamb.

. . . don’t forget to put the battery back in the smoke alarm!

lamb leg steak cut to show pink interior

For real pork lovers

Sometimes I’m a little slow on finding out about new food things in Durham–e.g. Rose’s Meat and Sweet Shop. They’ve been open for about six months and I just recently got there.  I guess I was so slow to find this because I’ve been buried in end-of-term grading, and a couple different indexes, but I’ll certainly be back frequently.

If you’re one of those people who think that pork can’t be eaten if it’s still pink, and if you’re one of those people who carefully cut every last itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny, tiny bit of fat off you meat, then you might as well stop reading right here because from here on you only comments and thoughts will probably be icky, yuck, and things of that nature; but before you leave, you should certainly check out Rose’s website if you’re in Durham.They have sausages, bacon (dry cured), stock, lard, and offal at various times, depending on when they’ve just  butchered.  (You should definitely peruse the sweets and menu items while you’re there, too–not just the meats.)

It’s not a huge quantity of meat that you’ll see  in the case, but top quality meat, and some unusual cuts that you won’t find in the supermarket.  My “find” on my first visit (in addition to the little chocolate hazelnut tarts and the chocolate wafers) was a pork neck steak–something I’d never seen offered for sale before. Needless to say, my love of pork and my curiosity got the best of me and I brought home neck steak.

When I got my pork neck steak home, I headed for the computer to do a little searching.  I don’t think I’ve seen a recipe for this cut of pork in any of the many cookbooks that I have–even the meat cookbooks.  I guess it’s not a cut that is used frequently.

The first thing I learned was that it’s also called a neck fillet as well.  One of the first places I found information was at Eat to Blog. Donny Tsang’s post on pork neck fillet referenced Jamie Oliver’s method of cooking the cut and had good comments about it. So where else would I go?   Right straight to Jamie Oliver.com for his recipe.

photograph of pork neck fillet from jamieoliver.com

I did as the post on Eat to Blog, leaving out the sage and the lemon because I just wanted to get a feel for the pork itself. It was easy to cook: very, very hot cast iron griddle (which practically lives on my stove) for two minutes on each side, and then turn at one-minute intervals until it has cooked a total of 8 minutes.

The result? Absolutely marvelous! Of course I started with top quality pasture-raised pork that had  enough fat for great flavor and juiciness. With the fat in this cut, it’s very rich.  I did use a squeeze of lemon to brighten and cut a bit of the richness.

Caveats for cooking this on a cast iron griddle or skillet: you’re going to have smoke–but it’s worth it.   I had to take the smoke/CO alarm outside while I cooked this–and I’ll take it out next time, too, because I’ll definitely be cooking this again.  Admittedly it’s not something you are going to eat every day–so I figure I can allow the fat that comes with it. Cutting fat off is not an option because the meat is well-marbled, and fat is interspersed between muscles; besides that, if you’re going to cut off all the fat, you might as well buy a loin chop! We’re after some great flavor here. I think I’ll try the sage next time, but just plain, finished with a little fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel it was wonderful.

(Ok, I’ll also confess to using lard in some things when I cook–and I so pleased that Rose’s has lard–now I don’t have to scrounge for fat back and render my own.)

NOTE: I’ve unabashedly gotten this photo from Jamie Oliver’s website (caption is a link to his website) but I’ll have to say that mine looked just as good as this one–and the flavor was right up there with the looks.

A son goût!