Electric Smoker Meats Its Match With Leg Of Lamb Two Ways

0

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.

Soupe de la Semaine: Duck Egg Drop Soup

0

Soup is good food.

Let me say this right up front: working with lemongrass is a pain in the ass. When I discover pieces of it in tom kha gai, it’s always like tasty little bits of indigestible wood, and I never have a graceful way of disposing of them. In theory, you can pound it into paste, but since I don’t have a four-ton press hanging about, I haven’t done that. I may try chopping it up and popping it in the Vita-Mixer with a little liquid to see if I can get something useful, and when that happens, I will share the consequences, even it it results in having to replace the Vita-Mixer. That said, lemongrass tastes so good, it’s worth the effort.

Today, I decided to throw about a dozen stalks and three liters of filtered water into the Instant Pot® and make, in essence, lemongrass broth. It was almost like a tea; fairly aromatic, but somewhat insubstantial, so I threw in some Better Than Bouillon stock paste for good measure. A couple of recent impulse purchases meant that I had a dozen duck eggs and a gigantic bag of Chinese leeks laying about, so I went improv in a big way. I’ve always liked egg drop soup, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. Simple simple simple.

The first chore was to clean the lemongrass, which had a fair amount of residual dirt, and then chop off the bits that weren’t going to be useful. The New York Times food section website has an excellent video on just how to do that. I did not bruise the lemongrass first, figuring that there was no need to leave any of those aromatic oils on my butcher block; the Instant Pot®’s pressure cooking function was adequate to force them into the broth. 30 minutes of high pressure with a natural release was just fine, as I was in the midst of doing other stuff at the time. Yay for multitasking, especially when a machine takes on half the tasks.

After the lemongrass broth was complete, I added the Better Than Bouillon stock paste to give the broth some heft, and added a little potato starch for thickening. The Chinese leeks are actually more similar to garlic chives than traditional leeks in taste and texture, and a quick clean and chop rendered them soup-ready. For the finale, a couple of duck eggs (or chicken eggs, if that’s what you have) pulled it all together. I could easily have gone more complex with spices or seasonings, but the stock paste brought sufficient salt into the equation, and I wanted to let the rest of the ingredients speak for themselves. A tablespoon or two of fish sauce would have been a welcome addition on some other day, and you’re welcome to play with your own mix. I can even imagine a place for some five spice powder or star anise as potential components, but on this day in this place, I opted for simplicity and it tasted fresh and good.

The technique for “dropping the egg” is pretty straightforward. whisk a couple of eggs in a Pyrex® measuring cup, then whisk a couple of ladles of the hot broth into the eggs. At that point, you can drizzle the egg-broth mixture into the hot soup a bit at a time as you stir the soup. Voila: egg threads. Done and done. I served it in bowls because it was hot and needed the surface area to cool a bit, but mugs are fine serving vessels as well.

Duck Egg Drop Soup
serves 8-12 as a starter

Tiny for leeks, aren’t they?

INGREDIENTS
3.5 liters / 15 cups water
12 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and halved (see above for technique)
3 tablespoons / 60 g Better Than Bouillon stock base
2 cups / 200 g Chinese leeks, chopped (green onions or garlic chives or leeks can be substituted)
2 duck or chicken eggs
2 tablespoons / 20 g potato starch (or corn starch)

DIRECTIONS
Clean and chop lemongrass (see video for technique). Add to Instant Pot® with 3.5 liters / 15 cups water. Turn lever on lid to “Sealing” (rather than “Venting”) and press the “Soup” button, adjusting the time to 30 minutes if necessary. When cycle is done, allow to depressurize naturally or turn lever to “Venting,” depending on your time constraints. Remove lemongrass stalks and add stock base and chopped Chinese leeks. Turn Instant Pot® off, then press the “Saute” button to heat the soup base. Whisk together potato starch and a small amount of stock (approximately 125 ml / ½ cup) to form a slurry; gradually add another 125 ml / ½ cup of stock while whisking, then add the thickened stock to the Instant Pot® container.

Crack two eggs into a Pyrex® measuring cup or other bowl, then whisk in about 250 ml / 1 cup of hot broth, stirring constantly. Drizzle that mixture into the Instant Pot® container, stirring constantly, so the egg becomes threadlike. Turn Instant Pot® off (or set to warming mode), and serve.

Rosemary Apple Butter — Savory To The Core

1
Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Who doesn’t like apple butter? Seriously. One of the real joys of this humble spread is that it can be made so easily, and with almost no general kitchen aptitude. If you can manage to get a bunch of ingredients into a pot — or, in this case, a slow cooker — you’ve pretty much got it made.

My main quarrel with most of the apple butters I’ve consumed over the years (and a minor one at that) is that they were a tad sweet for my taste; I aimed to veer off a few degrees toward the more savory side, and because I have a thriving rosemary bush immediately adjacent to my house, I decided to employ its bountiful, um, bounty. Basil or thyme would also make excellent partners in the savory apple butter process, but rosemary works magnificently on its own, and it was at hand in abundance.

The first time I made apple butter, I peeled all the apples with a hand-held vegetable peeler. Very old-school, and plenty effective, but it does lend itself to a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s slow. For just about $20 USD, you can pick up a peeler/corer unit that really speeds up the process, and keeps your wrists supple and cramp-free.

The slow cooker is a perfect match for this recipe, but it’s easily doable on the stove or in the oven; basically, you bring the liquid to a boil, then back off on the heat, and let it cook until it reduces to the desired thickness. If you were putting it in the oven in a covered pot (a Dutch oven, for instance), you’d want to keep it covered for most of the time, and the temp fairly low, say 250˚F/125˚C, and you can leave it overnight.

ROSEMARY APPLE BUTTER
6 Jonagold apples
6 Golden Delicious apples
6 Granny Smith apples
6 Red Delicious apples
½ cup turbinado sugar (honey or agave syrup can be used as a substitute, as can regular cane sugar, white or brown)
Juice of 2 lemons
6 sticks cinnamon
1 cup unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice
8 star anise
1 branch rosemary (6-8 twigs)

[NOTE: I picked the apples I did due to the fact that they were all on sale; the Red Delicious are definitely the weak sister in the bunch, taste and texture-wise, so you might want to have either eight apiece of the first three varieties, or substitute some other variety for the Red Delicious. As it turned out, the apple butter was delicious (no pun intended), but I think it could have been even better with Romes or Galas or McIntoshes or Fujis or many other options.

Also, the unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice was on sale, so I opted for it. It’s really quite good, but I expect that pretty much any apple juice is equal to the task.]

Peel, core, and cut up apples and put into a slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Leave on high for two hours, then switch to low for another twelve or so until desired consistency is reached. Remove cinnamon sticks, star anise, and rosemary twigs. Process in food processor or with immersion blender. [Be careful if using a food processor, especially if it’s still warm; the steam needs a place to go, so don’t cover your food processor tightly. Just set a towel over the opening.]

After about 12 hours or so, it should look kinda like this.

Cooked WAY down.

Cooked WAY down.

Some people prefer the rustic lumps and clumps of apple butter as pictured above, but the rosemary had shed some of its leaves, and I wasn’t happy to have them texturally in the finished product. I suppose I could have pulled all the leaves out with tweezers, but that wasn’t a happy prospect, so I let the immersion blender do its work.

Smooth as butter.

Smooth as butter.

At this point, the only decision remaining was whether or not to can. Because I added only a minimal amount of sugar, and because I wasn’t sure how acidic the apple varieties I used were, and because it didn’t yield an unworkable amount of finished product, I decided not to process the final apple butter in the traditional water bath, and opted for refrigeration instead. (My pH strips have since indicated that it’s well within the safe range for canning, so if you care to, go ahead and process the standard way; no need for pressure canning.) I’m guessing that between your own uses and the friends who will be clamoring for it, your apple butter won’t spend a long time on the shelf.

Where the heck did those 24 apples go?

Where the heck did those 24 apples go?

The apple butter pairs well with any sort of stinky cheese in hors d’oeuvres, but it’s also delightful with good old everyday Cheddar, or on a toasted English muffin either with or without butter. It also makes a terrific glaze for pork or chicken, should the occasion arise.