I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have had a bit of a problem when it comes to lamb. I can’t quite put my finger on when it began, perhaps in my childhood when my mother occasionally served us what was probably an inexpensive cut, but somewhere along the way I developed an aversion to the taste. In all the exploratory cooking of my college and post-college years, I stayed far away from any racks, legs, and chops. It wasn’t a philosophical problem; it was a taste problem. Gamey. An intolerable gameyness on those few occasions that I gave it try.
A little anecdote from my honeymoon might help to give you the picture. . . We were staying in the unelectrified cottage of a friend, deep in a valley outside of Killarney. When the lights were off at night, it was black and quiet as a tomb. And cold – it was early April in Ireland. After several nights of soup and sandwiches in the cottage, punctuated by a pub dinner here and there, we decided to have dinner at the cottage across the meadow, that also functioned as a B&B. This meant crossing a pitch-black cow pasture (remember that scene on the moor in American Werewolf in London where Griffin Dunne meets his fate?) before arriving at the cottage, to find we were the only guests. And with a guest list so small, we were dining Chez Panisse style – no choices. It was lambing season. Dinner was Irish stew – lamb, potatoes, carrots. For this I had braved the werewolf-infested field?!!! And would have to return across it, belly empty??? If I recall correctly, a few tears were shed.
But fast forward! It’s 2011 and I find myself at a raucous dinner party in West Dover, Vermont, at the home of a hostess who never seems to hit a wrong note. On this occasion, the centerpiece of the wooden farm table is an enormous casserole of moussaka, the Greek dish consisting of eggplant, ground lamb, garlic and bechamel. As I considered the possibility of simply filling my plate with salad, I decided it was high time I faced my lamb issues. A little gameyness wasn’t going to kill me afterall. But surprise, surprise, not only no gameyness, but one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten! I went back for seconds. And then I spoke with Fiona, creator of this dish, to learn what sort of lamb she had used – perhaps that was the secret. She had purchased a shoulder and had the butcher grind it for her. I made a mental note.
A few weeks later, I happened upon Melissa Clark‘s recipe for Pasta with Turkish-Style Lamb, Eggplant, and Yogurt Sauce, from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I remembered the moussaka. I had the butcher grind some lamb shoulder. I prepared a lamb dish for the first time in my life.
When the pasta was ready, I spooned it into a bowl and hesitated. Could the moussaka incident have been a fluke? Would I be digging through my fridge for an alternative dinner of cheese and bread in a few minutes?
No! Dripping with garlicky yogurt and melted browned butter, it could not have been better. I may not yet be ready to move on to racks and chops, but I’m a long way from Killarney!