Electric Smoker Meats Its Match With Leg Of Lamb Two Ways

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Sell by? It will have been long gone by.

Headline pun intended.

The Internets have no shortage of opinions when it comes to smoking meats, and one is on a fool’s errand to attempt to secure a definitive answer. PRO TIP: This is NOT a definitive answer.

I’ve been grilling leg of lamb for about half my life now (which is to say over 30 years), and I was excited to try our new pellet smoker to find out how it stacked up against the various other methods (Big Green Egg, gas grill, trad charcoal grill) I’ve employed before.

The short version: Very Well.

You don’t need to follow me down the rabbit hole unless you’re slightly — like me — monomaniacal about research prior to grillage. If you are, I suggest these YouTube vids, one from Malcom Reed’s HowToBBQRight, the other from Darnell McGavock Sr.’s D Grill. Both of them used electric pellet smokers, so they were the most relevant to my immediate project, but I also watched a bunch of others. The reason I frequently turn to YouTube first is to see the actual cooks and their process(es) in motion, as well as to hear comments they might not bother to include in a printed recipe. [I also visited Steven Raichlen’s very informative online home, which I recommend highly.]

Originally, my intention was to make pulled lamb, which in theory comes off the smoke at a higher temp than your standard smoked leg. From what I’ve read (at least in terms of pork), there are two sweet spots for removing meat from the grill/smoker: one is about 145-150°F/63-65.5°C, the other is about 195-203°F/90-95°C. Apparently, the in-between is the “tough zone.” I’ve encountered this phenomenon before when cooking octopus, squid, and shrimp (not always on the grill), so it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps a quick revisit to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will yield an answer as to why, but that’s for another post. I opted not to pursue the higher finished temperature, because I read that the leg was not sufficiently possessed of marbling fat to make it tender at that temp; that recipe recommended bone-in lamb shoulder instead.

Lose some, but not all, the fat.

PREP
No matter how thoroughly your butcher trims the fat off your lamb leg, it’s not enough. You don’t want to take all the fat away, but an excess will give it that “gamy” taste that causes people to think they don’t like lamb. You can see in the lower right of the photo above how much fat I excised. I cut the leg about 60/40%, because I was feeling a bit experimentative, both in terms of marinating and cooking.

Pan-Asian Marinade Ingredients.

Marinade #1 (Asian Style) (for the 60% piece)
INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp. / 30 ml sesame oil
2 tbsp. / 5-6 cloves minced garlic
3 tsp. / 16 g ginger paste
6 star anise pods, ground
3 tsp. / 5 g five-spice powder
1 tsp. / 2.5 g white pepper

It’s Turkish-ish, kinda.

Marinade #2 (Turkish-ish) (for the 40% piece)
INGREDIENTS
¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil (I used Olea Farm, which I love)
¼ cup / 60 ml pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp. / 55 g Darrell & Nil’s Turkish Blend Spice*
5 large slices preserved lemon
2 tbsp. salt (preferably kosher or flaked; I used Læsø Salt from Denmark, because I had some and it’s a good story)

*Yeah, you’re gonna have a tough time finding that. It’s made from paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, cassia, sumac, oregano, Maras chile, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Maybe I can get them to cough up the actual recipe, but if not, make sure you include the sumac and Maras chile, which really push the blend toward Istanbul.

Rub rub rub it in; get your fingers into it; don’t be shy.

MARINATION DIRECTIONS

Rub it in to all the cracks and crevasses, and allow the lamb to chill overnight in the fridge. Due to a scheduling conflict, I left it in for two nights. Not a problem.

A WORD ON PELLET SMOKING

Ask 15 pitmasters what the best type of wood for smoking lamb might be, and you’ll get 67¾ answers. After way too much agita, I succumbed to crowdsourcing and went with Amazon’s Choice, Traeger’s Signature Blend (their hickory pellets were the #1 Best Seller). I am sure that at some point in the future, I will have a hankering to try a specific type of wood with a specific recipe, but this wasn’t it. Think Ford, not Ferrari.

A little over an hour in the smoker. Some colour, but no “bark.”

ON THE SMOKER

I checked the pellet level and fired up the smoker, letting the machine come up to temp (250°F/121°C) while I took the lamb out of the chill chest and tied it up with butcher’s twine to help ensure an even roast. 20 minutes later, I placed the pieces fat side up on the grill and left them alone, apart from one quick peek about halfway through to see if they needed to be swaddled in aluminum foil to keep from drying out (they didn’t). After 3.5 hours on the electric pellet smoker at 250°F/121°C, the one on the left came off at an internal temp of 148°F/64.4°C, the one on the right came off at an internal temp of 166°F/74.4°C (which is regarded as the high end of acceptable for lamb). Obviously, the marinades made some difference in the appearance of the two pieces, and I can say that the 166°F/74.4°C piece was not quite as tender as the other one, though both were highly acceptable, texture-wise, and both were absolutely delicious.

After the meat rested, I popped it back in the fridge for a few hours, but it re-emerged at dinnertime for “lambwiches” (lamb sandwich with rocket and mayo on a Kaiser roll). Still moist and tender, full of flavour. And hands down, the most effortless process for leg of lamb I’ve found yet. Just like I would be happy with my Instant Pot even if I used it for nothing other than beans, I’m thrilled with the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX even if it only ever gets used for lamb… which it surely won’t.

Shameless repurposing, part three: Wolf at the Door, or The Puck Stops Here

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Wolfgang and Oscar, together again

Wolfgang and Oscar, together again

Yeah, I know I’m going to hell for the puns. I think it was the endless hours of watching Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid, in which upcoming episodes would be teased with titles such as “The Midnight Chew-Chew, or Stick To Your Gums” and “Fuels Rush In, or Star Spangled Boner.” In 2012, I had the opportunity to interview Wolfgang Puck, who was as charming on the telephone as he is on the television (and, presumably, in person). I realize that one doesn’t climb to the Elysian heights that Puck has ascended without a healthy double dollop of ego, but I found him to be surprisingly modest. Much like Emeril Lagasse, Puck has built a loyal cadre around him, many of whom have been in his employ for upwards of 20 years, which is no mean feat in the remarkably transient business of hospitality.

And, like virtually everyone who has achieved justifiable fame in the cooking profession (I’m pointedly leaving out many — though by no means all — of TV’s instant celebu-chefs, who maintain a virtual chokehold on the Cooking Channel and the Food Network “reality” shows these days), he laboured for years before ever penetrating the public consciousness, leaving home at 14 to work as an apprentice at a bakery. His first major gig in America was in Indianapolis, of all places.

Fine Dining at the now-shuttered La Tour, Indianapolis, circa Wolfgang's era

Fine Dining at the now-shuttered La Tour, Indianapolis, circa Wolfgang’s era

It was all glamour and glitz from there, Oscar parties and multi-million dollar deals, but his passion for food still comes through in conversation. In fact, here’s a recipe he gave me for Savory Squash Soup that can be served warm or cold, making it an excellent year-round dish.

Savory Squash Soup in situ

Savory Squash Soup in situ

Savory Squash Soup (serves 6)

Ingredients
4 butternut squash (about 3 3/4 pounds)
2 acorn squash (about 1 3/4 pounds)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 white onions (about 4 ounces), peeled, trimmed, and finely diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock, heated
2 cups heavy cream
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Garnish
Cranberry Relish*
Cardamom Cream**
Spiced Caramelized Pecans***
8 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil

Preheat the oven to 350° F/ 175° C.

Cut each squash in half and discard the seeds. Brush cut sides with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Arrange the squash cut side down in a roasting pan and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Cool, scoop out the insides of the squash, and purée the flesh in a food processor. Reserve. (You should have about 6 cups of puréed squash.)

In a medium stockpot, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Over low heat, sauté the onion. Do not allow it to brown. Add the puréed squash and cook over very low heat until heated through, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to bubble up. Season with the salt, pepper, ginger, and cardamom.

Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, still over low heat, stirring often. Cook about 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the rosemary sprig. Remove the rosemary and pour the cream into the soup. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process, in batches, for 2 or 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

To serve, ladle the soup into heated bowls. Place a tablespoon of Cranberry Relish in the center, top with a dollop of Cardamom Cream, then sprinkle with chopped pecans. Drizzle pumpkin seed oil over soup.

Note: If desired, bake small squash until tender, scoop out, and use as individual serving bowls.
Note #2: You don’t need to make the full recipe for the Cranberry Relish if you’re using it only for the soup.

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Cranberry Relish - photo courtesy wolfgangpuck.com

Cranberry Relish – photo courtesy wolfgangpuck.com

*Instructions for Cranberry Relish (serves 6)

3 cups cranberries, fresh
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup verjus or 4 tablespoons lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Continue to cook until the mixture is thick and the berries are glazed. Allow to cool. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

**Instructions for Cardamom Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon black cardamom seeds

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of heavy cream and the cardamom seeds to a boil. Reduce until only 1/4 cup remains. Strain through a wire sieve and allow to cool.
Add flavored cream to the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and whip until stiff peaks form. Chill until ready to serve.

Spiced Caramelized Pecans

Spiced Caramelized Pecans

***Instructions for Spiced Caramelized Pecans

1 1/2 cups peanut oil
1 cup pecan halves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

Add pecans to a pot of boiling water in two batches, boiling for two minutes. Drain and shake off all excess water.
Sprinkle salt and cayenne over nuts. Coat with sugar, allowing the sugar to melt into the pecans.
Toss the nuts in the strainer, slowly adding all sugar. [NOTE: Do not use utensil to toss.]
Carefully add nuts to hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove with slotted spoon and allow to cool on cookie sheet.