North Fork Chef: Lamb is perfect for spring

Lamb osso buco with noodles. (Credit: John Ross)

Lamb osso buco with noodles. (Credit: John Ross)

Spring is finally here on the North Fork and you didn’t need to go to Minnesota to see some snow this past winter. And with spring comes Easter, Passover and many other religious and secular traditions. In the world of food, lamb is part of these ancient traditions and is at its best during this time of year.

Traditional preparations include roast leg of lamb and rack of lamb; broiled loin, rib and shoulder lamb chops; and braised lamb shank and stew meat from the neck. But I have discovered that lamb steaks, resembling beef sirloin steaks, cut about 1 inch thick across the leg, make a delicious new way to have lamb. Just purchase a whole leg of American lamb and ask your butcher to cut it 1 inch thick from one end to the other, leaving the bones in. The pieces from the ends make an excellent version of lamb osso buco, while the center will give you about 6 delicious, tender steaks. Here are some suggestions for both cuts:

French-Style Lamb Steaks with Flageolet Beans and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Make a marinade by combining 2 tablespoons of dried herbes de Provence with 2 crushed cloves of garlic, the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread the marinade on top of the steaks in a shallow pan and refrigerate for 2 hours or more, turning once.

Trim the ends off 8 plum tomatoes, split each in half and place on a foil-lined sheet pan. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle 1 teaspoon kosher salt over them. Put them in a 250-degree oven for 3 hours.

Rinse 1 pound of French flageolet beans (or substitute navy beans) and bring to a boil in 3 quarts water. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for 1 hour and drain.

Heat a large saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence. Cook for 3 minutes and add the beans along with 4 cups unsalted chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until beans are just tender, about 45 minutes. (Add a little water if necessary.) Stir in 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/2 cup chopped parsley.

At service time, bring the lamb steaks to room temperature and grill them over high heat until medium-rare, about 5 minutes per side. Serve them over the beans with the slow-roasted tomatoes on the side.

Serves 4-6.

Greek-Style Lamb Steaks with Barley Pilaf and Vegetables

Prepare a marinade by combining 1/4 cup olive oil, the juice and zest of 2 lemons, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. Place the steaks in a shallow pan and spoon the marinade over them. Marinate 2 hours or more, turning once.

For the barley pilaf: Bring 1 quart water to a boil and add 1 cup barley. Bring back to a boil and simmer until barley is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and 2 teaspoons minced garlic. Cook at medium heat for 3 minutes and add 1 package of quartered baby bella mushrooms. Continue to cook until mushrooms give up their moisture, about 15 minutes.

Wash a 10-ounce bag of spinach, remove the stems and tear the leaves into 2-inch pieces. Add the spinach to the mushrooms along with 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cover, raise the heat and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the cover and stir in the cooked barley along with 1 bunch of finely minced green onions, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

For the vegetables: Trim 1/2 pound of green beans, 1/2 head of cauliflower and 1 bunch of young carrots. Cook these vegetables in a steamer pan until crisp-tender and set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 thinly sliced bulb of fennel and 1 sliced red onion to the pan and cook at low heat for 10 minutes. Crush 2 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons coriander seeds with the blade of a chef’s knife and add them to the pan. Continue cooking and add 3 diced plum tomatoes, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and the zest and juice of 1 lemon.

Place all of the blanched vegetables in a large bowl and pour the fennel mixture over them. Toss them together and spread out on a foil-lined sheet pan.

At service time, remove the steaks from the marinade and dry with paper towels. Cook them on a grill pan (or on an outdoor grill) in batches at high heat until medium-rare, about 5 minutes per side.

Transfer the barley to a casserole and put it in a 300-degree oven with the sheet pan of vegetables.

Serves 4-6.

Lamb Osso Buco

Heat a Dutch oven and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brown the lamb end pieces at high heat on both sides and remove.

Pour off the fat, lower the heat and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1 chopped onion, 3 stalks of celery cut in 1-inch pieces and 3 carrots cut in large pieces. Cook for 5 minutes and add 3 cloves of sliced garlic.

Continue cooking and add 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Stir to make a roux and pour in 2 cups chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and add 6 chopped canned tomatoes along with 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 bay leaves and a sprig of thyme. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. Cover and place in a 300-degree oven for 2 hours.

Serve over wide noodles.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.