“Who doesn’t love lamb fat?” Andrew Zimmerman asked before he began cooking a dish that used the ingredient several different ways. The question was rhetorical, but there is an answer: Zimmerman himself.
“Lamb fat’s known for having a pretty strong flavor,” he explained. “When people talk about lamb being sort of gamey—for lack of a better word, ‘lamby,’ usually the thing that’s most responsible for that is the lamb fat. It’s where the majority of that flavor is.”
“I like a more subtle and nuanced lamb flavor,” he adds.
What does lamb fat taste like? “I think it’s really kind of its own thing,” says Zimmerman. “It tastes like lamb—a lot. It’s not gamey the way a squab breast can taste a little like liver, or venison could be considered gamey, or hare. It’s . . . extreme lambiness.”
“If you want to taste it by itself you might see why we would think, ‘Hey, delicious, but give me a little less.'”
For the purposes of this challenge, though, he wanted to highlight the ingredient as much as possible while keeping the dish appealing. “Part of the game here is for me to make it so that there’s lamb fat in it, but it doesn’t taste like I gave you a bowl full of lamb fat.”
“I did think of things like—in Italy they make lardo, right, cured pork fat, and you can make whipped lardo and spread it on a crouton. So I thought, should I make whipped lamb fat? . . . No.
“Have you ever had Scotch broth? It’s a classic light lamb soup. . . . I thought, lamb fat would float. So I could have put up a little Scotch broth shot glass with a layer of fat on top. Hey, it’s the essence of lamb, here you go. One shot, knock yourself out. But that would have been gross.”
What Zimmerman ended up making was a lamb loin wrapped in cured lamb belly and seared in lamb fat, served with lamb sweetbread beignets dusted with lamb fat powder, potatoes confited in lamb fat, and vegetables.
After removing the fat from the lamb saddle, Zimmerman roasted it in the oven “so we’d get that roasty, meaty lamb flavor.” He could have rendered it for a more neutral flavor, but decided that roasted lamb tastes better than boiled lamb, so roasted lamb fat would probably taste better than boiled lamb fat.
Zimmerman has a hierarchy of animal fats in his kitchen, with duck and pork fats in the most preferred positions. Beef comes next, and lamb fat is last.
“Duck fat is just creamier and sexier all the way around.”
Still, Zimmerman got into the spirit of things, cooking potatoes in the fat to make them taste like roasted lamb, and creating lamb fat powder using tapioca maltodextrin, a modified food starch that absorbs liquid fats well. “It’s really not too bad,” he said of the latter. “Because the powder is so light and fluffy, it disperses that roasted lamb flavor out so it’s sort of appealing, as opposed to . . . ” He didn’t finish the sentence.
He completed the dish with a red wine sauce made with roasted lamb bones and a bit more of the lamb fat powder. Pushed to taste it, he concluded, “Gosh darn it, that’s lamb.”
Zimmerman did concede: “I have to say that I’ve developed perhaps a new appreciation for the possibilities of lamb fat.”
Brian Enyart, chef de cuisine at Topolobampo, using natto, a traditional Japanese food of fermented soybeans. “It’s a quirky ingredient that I knew was outside Brian’s area of expertise and would therefore give him a challenge,” explained Zimmerman. “I thought that with his background in Mexican cooking, working with Rick Bayless for as long as he has, this would be way out of his comfort zone.”
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
Roasted Lamb Saddle With Lamb Sweetbread Beignets and Roasted Lamb Fat Powder
One whole saddle of lamb, broken down into:
Two pieces of lamb belly, trimmed of some excess fat and any skin
Two loins, trimmed of all fat and silverskin
Two tenderloins (reserve for another dish)
Lamb fat (roasted)
Lamb bones, cut into chunks with a cleaver
(Have your butcher do all this for you or grab a knife and go to town.)
2 cups dry red wine
2 quarts chicken stock
Roasted lamb bones
1 onion, large dice
1 carrot, large dice
1 piece of celery, cut in half
1 small bunch thyme
2 T cold butter
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the lamb fat in one roasting pan and the lamb bones in another. As you roast the fat it will melt out and the proteins will begin to caramelize; this will take 30-45 minutes or so. Keep an eye on it and pull it out of the oven when it smells nice and roasty. Strain the fat and reserve.
Roast the bones until they are nicely browned and remove from the oven. Put the bones in a pot and put the roasting pan on the stove top. Warm the roasting pan and deglaze the pan with the wine (be careful: if the pan is too hot the wine may ignite. If it does it should burn off quickly.) Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to help loosen the browned bits. Pour the wine and lamb juices into the pot with the lamb bones. Cover with chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for about two hours, skimming as needed. Add the vegetables and thyme. Simmer another hour and strain through a fine sieve. Put the lamb stock in a smaller pan and simmer to reduce until the sauce will just coat the back of a spoon. Set aside.
When ready to serve, reheat to a simmer and whisk in the cold butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cured Lamb Belly
Two pieces trimmed lamb belly
2 T toasted fennel seed
2 pieces star anise
2 T black pepper
1½ cups kosher salt
¾ cup brown sugar
1/8 t curing salt
Grind the toasted spices and mix with the salts and sugar. Rub the lamb bellies evenly with the mixture. Wrap the bellies in cheese cloth and cure for two days in the refrigerator. After two days, unwrap and rinse off the cure.
Two lamb loins
Cured lamb belly
3 t Activa RM (transglutaminase, or “meat glue”)
2 t kosher salt
2 T roasted lamb fat
4 T cold butter
2 sprigs each thyme and rosemary
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Lay the two lamb loins out on a rack over a cookie sheet. Season lightly with the salt and let the loins sit for about two hours in the refrigerator. Take them out and pat dry with paper towels, then dust with Activa RM and lay one on top of the other. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to form a cylinder and let rest in the refrigerator for three to four hours. Meanwhile slice the lamb belly as thinly as possible in long strips (on a meat slicer if possible). Lay out overlapping strips of belly on a sheet of plastic wrap, enough to wrap the entire loin, and lightly dust with Activa RM. Remove the plastic wrap from the loin, place the loin on the strips, and wrap it completely. Put back in the fridge for three to four more hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pull the lamb from the fridge an hour or so before you want to cook it and season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan and add the lamb fat. Sear the lamb loins in the lamb fat for about two minutes and then add the butter, thyme, rosemary and garlic. Baste the lamb in the butter for about three minutes and then put the pan in the oven for another seven to ten minutes or until the center of the lamb registers 127 on a meat thermometer (for medium rare). Let the lamb rest on a rack tented with foil for at least seven minutes before carving.
2 lobes lamb sweetbreads, blanched and peeled, cut into small nuggets
2 cups buttermilk
2 T salt
1½ T lemon juice
1 T chopped thyme
1 T Dijon mustard
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
½ t salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 bottle beer
4 cups vegetable oil for frying
Combine the brine ingredients and soak the sweetbreads for two hours.
Mix the beignet batter together using only enough beer to create a batter the consistency of thick pancake batter.
Heat the oil in a pot large enough so that the oil only fills it two-thirds of the way. When the oil is 375 degrees dredge the sweetbreads in the batter and fry for about two minutes or so until they are cooked through. Keep warm.
Lamb Fat Powder
1 cup tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit)
2 T roasted lamb fat, melted
Pinch fine sea salt
In a food processor or a bowl, mix the fat into the tapioca maltodextrin. Season with salt and set aside. Use the lamb fat powder to dust the beignets just before serving.
Slice the lamb loin into ¾-inch-thick medallions, and place one on each plate along with two beignets. Serve with confited potatoes and your favorite vegetables. Drizzle with lamb sauce and sprinkle with lamb fat powder. Serves four.