When thinking of Colorado cuisine, a few items come to mind: green chili, pulled pork, and more recently, cooking with (and drinking) craft beers have become associated with our state. But long before these guys came along, we were known for our lamb. The Spanish settlers began raising lamb in the southwest part of the state in the 1500s. Today it is one of our biggest and most well-known industries to locals and to chefs across the world.
What Makes Colorado Lamb Stand Out?
Our unusual amount of sunshine, crisp mountain air, native grasses and grains cultivate rich and tender meat. Colorado lamb’s long line of genetics and natural grazing habits creates a leaner and milder flavor than imported or other domestic lamb. It is no wonder we are the nation’s number one lamb feeding state! It is also very lucrative to our local economy, as imported lamb (typically from New Zealand or Australia) runs about $15 per pound where as Colorado lamb is around $25-$30. Colorado lamb is worth the extra price tag with a less gamey, or grassy flavor, due to the steak-like cuts and the extra marbling, fatty flavor and a higher ratio of meat to bone.
Lamb is often thought of as the other, higher-end, red meat. It is not always as easy to find good cuts of lamb, unlike steaks, there are usually a few options in the local supermarkets and almost always in larger organic stores with equipped butchers. Look for meat that is rosy pink and white fat marbleization. Here is a quick guide to the most popular cuts and their uses:
Shoulder chops are the most affordable cut of lamb. This cut is ideal for grilling, or pan-frying. Be careful not to over-cook this delicate cut when using these methods as this meat is best medium to rare. Another not as popular method (but should be) is braising shoulder chops creating a fall-off-the bone tenderness and richness to dishes.
Rack of lamb is the gem of lamb cuts and can come with a large price tag. The reason we shell out a little more for this cut is because with just tow cuts per-animal there is a lot of butcher labor involved, trimming off the fat and excess bone to display the perfected rack, and scraped “Frenched” bones. Rack of lamb is typically special occasion meat, roasted or, you may ask your butcher to cut the chops and pan sear or grill.
If you are trying to convince a steak lover to love lamb just as much, try a loin chop. This cut looks like a mini t-bone and cooks like one too! Just like a steak, a loin chop is best grilled, pan-fried or broiled to medium- medium rare.
With the holidays arriving faster than we can say “Halloween”, consider serving a leg of lamb instead of turkey, or ham, for your holiday gathering. This cut can easily feed up to eight people, and they are easier to carve, and cook faster then turkeys! Ask your butcher to butterfly the leg for easy stuffing and rolling to make a beautiful presentation. Roasting is the best and most popular method of cooking however could also be cooked in a slow cooker.