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Stuffed Lamb Breast
Because lamb breast is relatively flat and doesn’t have a lot of meat, it is an ideal cut to stuff. This Italian-inflected recipe is great as we present it here, but it would also be delicious covered in a simple tomato sauce or sitting atop a pile of braised white beans. It is good served warm or cool; a salad on the side completes the meal.
Serves 3 to 4
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped, plus 8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
One 3 by 3 by 1 inch-thick slice of crustless country-style bread
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh marjoram, oregano, or rosemary, plus 2 fresh sprigs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 ounce finely grated Parmesan or similar cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 bone-in breast of lamb (about 3 pounds after trimming), trimmed of most external fat and opened up by your butcher to create a pocket the entire length of the breast (see Note)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, chopped garlic, and pancetta. Cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ground lamb and cook until the meat is lightly browned, for 3 to 5 minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add the peas, 1/4 teaspoon salt, a few tablespoons of water, and cook 1 minute more, scraping the skillet to loosen any browned bits. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Soak the bread in water or milk until soft. Break up to form a coarse paste. Drain excess milk and crumble bread into bowl with meat. Add the chopped marjoram, parsley, cheese, and egg and combine thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
2. Fill the lamb breast with stuffing, spreading it evenly and into the corners (it should plump up nicely but don’t pack too firmly). Either sew up the opening using a trussing needle with kitchen string, or tie the breast as for a roast, spacing the loops between each rib, pulling each loop fairly firmly to keep filling in place until it firms up during cooking.
3. Generously salt and pepper the lamb breast and place bone-side down on a roasting rack set in a roasting pan or baking dish just large enough to contain it (there should be space enough to fit a basting spoon between the rack and the pan). Drizzle top with a tablespoon or so of oil and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and roast for 45 minutes. Carefully pour off fat from roasting pan and add whole garlic cloves, marjoram sprigs and wine. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes more, basting lamb breast every 20 minutes or so. Remove lamb from the oven and let rest 15 to 30 minutes to firm up filling before slicing.
4. Place lamb on a cutting board. Snip and discard strings and, using a sharp, heavy knife, cut breast into slices between the ribs, carefully cutting through the filling and then pressing firmly to cut through the breastbone. If breastbone won’t easily separate into ribs, the meat and filling can be lifted off the bones instead – either in one whole piece or in portions. With the filling removed, it’s easy to cut the breast into individual ribs. Serve these alongside the meat and filling. If serving with tomato sauce, spoon warmed sauce over each portion and serve.
Note: One length of lamb breast (a half breast), trimmed, weighs between 2 and 4 pounds. If you can’t find a single piece that weighs about 3 pounds after trimming as called for, you can make this dish with two 1 1/2- or 2-pound pieces, have a pocket cut in each, and divide the stuffing between them. Your butcher can cut the pockets for you.
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