I was really looking forward to trying it; most of my experience is with our local sheep. I have worked with all manner of local Suffolks, Southdowns, Katahdins, and crosses, but never with Merino before. And the fact that Merino is known primarily as a wool sheep also piqued my professional curiosity.
If you remember your Latin (don't chefs study Latin? ;), silere is the verb "to be silent," evocative of the quiet alpine locations whence these sheep come. According to the marketing literature: "Their alpine environment and foraging lifestyle means that Merino mature more slowly and are naturally leaner than other breeds of sheep. Silere alpine origin merino can be taken through to 18-months of age, which allows for more natural development. This results in the fine grain, appealing density and clean palate that are characteristic of Silere alpine origin merino."
This all whetted my appetite to dig into the lamb and put it through the paces. My package contained very neatly trimmed spare ribs, a boneless leg, and so-called leg fillets, long boneless strips of steak from the leg. These neatly sealed packages are cute; I'm used to working with whole carcasses!
|Spare Ribs, Boneless Leg, Leg Filets|
|Silere Merino (left) v. Australian (right)|
|Oven-Ready Spare Ribs|
Balsamic-Braised Lamb Spare Ribs
The first cut we tackled was the spare ribs, because in our kitchen, we're ribs kind of guys. This recipe yields 8 appetizer portions or four dinner-sized portions.
8 pieces spare ribs
salt and pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh sage
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup white wine
Lightly season the spareribs and place in a braising pan with the remaining ingredients. Add water as necessary to come up about a third of the way on the ribs. Cover tightly and cook in slow oven until the ribs are fork tender, but not falling apart. Two hours is generally sufficient for a small pan of ribs like this. Larger pans will naturally take significantly longer.
|Balsamic-Braised, Grilled Lamb Spare Ribs on Risotto Milanese|
We sampled several customers on this dish and with the exception of one, they all loved it and clamored for more. The one that didn't like it complained about the fat cap on the ribs; it seems to me that she wouldn't have liked any ribs. This is a very polite way of saying what I was really thinking. ;)
Next up, we delved into the leg, seaming it out, and marinating it with a touch of olive oil, garlic, pimentón, and oregano. We lightly grilled the leg and served it over an Israeli couscous flavored with red, yellow, and orange peppers, poblano peppers, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, green onions, garlic, and finished in the style of risotto with grated pecorino romano and some pimentón aïoli. I know what you're thinking. You're right too! This is a damned fabulous dish!
|Grilled Leg of Lamb on Israeli Couscous|
We tasted the Silere leg against the Aussie leg in the kitchen, and then sampled them in the dining room. The texture of the Silere is very fine and as a result, the meat is extremely tender. The flavor is very mild. Customers liked all the samples. Those who are not big lamb fans preferred the very mild Silere and those who love the gaminess of lamb preferred the Aussie lamb. Everyone liked the texture of the Silere lamb better.
|Yiouvetsi Mise en Place|
Over the years, I have arrived at a very simple yiouvetsi that really appeals to me. I cube and sear lamb and remove it from the pan. Then I add onions and brown them just a bit. Back into the pan goes the lamb along with tomatoes and their juice, oregano, lemon juice, and everything gets covered with water and brought to a boil. After the lamb braises to tenderness, I add orzo and put it back in the oven until the orzo is plumped. Then I like to strew some feta about the top and lightly brown it.
|Arni Yiouvetsi, Hot out of the Oven|
|Delicious Comfort Food!|
After doing these three dishes with the Silere lamb, I can say that it is a much, much leaner product than I am used to and it has to be cooked more like game than traditional lamb. The grain and texture of the meat is very fine and almost silky, something that everyone who tasted it loves. The flavor is much less gamy than traditional lamb and is a hit especially with those people who are not big lamb fans. As a chef, I found that the Silere lamb lends itself to more subtle preparations because the lamb flavor does not dominate. I can treat it as pork or veal and customers love it.