Love Lamb…or Not? The Answer is In the Fat

Boneless Leg of Lamb with Fig-Olive Vinaigrette

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Lamb is traditional at Easter meals, with symbolism linked to both Christian and pagan celebrations (Reference 1), but not everyone is a fan. On a recent Splendid Table Podcast (Reference 2) Lynn Rosetto Kasper stated that Americans consume 11 pounds of lamb compared to 65 pounds of beef per person annually.  Molly Birnbaum, executive editor of Cook’s Science at America’s Test Kitchen, explained that the “earthy” or “gamey” flavor of lamb, a turnoff for some, is due to a special type of branch chained fatty acid in lamb.

I checked Harold McGee’s book (Reference 3) for more information.  The distinctive flavor of different meats such as lamb, beef, pork and even chicken, is largely a function of the fat tissue which reflects the animal’s diet and type of microbes in their gastrointestinal tract.  Grass- or forage-fed animals tend to have a stronger flavor. American lamb, which is grass fed partially and finished with grain, tends to be milder than New Zealand lamb which is reportedly entirely grass fed.

No wonder my preferred cut of lamb, aside from the hard-to-find tenderloin, is the leg. To streamline your prep time, have the butcher bone and butterfly the leg, (Ask for the bone to make a broth or soup, if you like.) MarchTrimLambI always trim away excess fat, which keeps the final product leaner and milder in taste. Lamb stands-up well to robust, assertive flavors as in this uber-easy Mediterranean-themed recipe that includes a fresh rosemary and garlic marinade and a fig-olive vinaigrette flavored with fennel.   Toasting the whole fennel seeds and crushing or grinding them brings out the most flavor.MarchPoundToasted Fennel Seed

If you’ll be busy coloring or hiding eggs, this recipe easily works into your schedule.  Marinate the meat and make the fig-olive vinaigrette a day ahead.  Your last minute job is to toss it on the grill, my preferred cooking method.

Here’s a link to the recipe I created for the Valley Fig Growers March, 2016 Fig Focus Newsletter Boneless Leg of Lamb with Fig-Olive Vinaigrette


1.    Why We Eat Lamb at Easter Communities , Digital News, April 20, 2014.

 2.    The Splendid Table Podcast #602 The Dirt Cure.

 3.    On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee.  Scribner.  2004. P. 134.

© 2015 Lorelle Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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