It’s easy to forget about lamb ribs, the most unsung and yet least expensive cut of lamb. Unlike pork or beef ribs, they’re not always readily available, prepackaged, in the grocer’s meat case. I often have to ask for them at the meat counter or find them at the local butcher shop.
I find them far more flavorful than pork ribs and less fatty (and heavy) than beef ribs. Lamb ribs are smaller and leaner, the perfect-sized bone to pick as an appetizer or for a casual meal.
Lamb is one of the most “natural” meats you can find. Sheep are easy to raise on pastures that are free of farm chemicals. Because they graze outside, these animals tend to be healthy and seldom require antibiotics. I prefer the lamb from our local farms to that from Colorado. Our local sheep are of a smaller breed and graze on a variety of grasses. The flavor of our local lamb is more distinctly lamb-y than that from Colorado, where the sheep’s diet is supplemented with corn. Colorado lamb tends to have a thicker layer of fat and a milder taste.
Lamb is enjoyed, perhaps revered, throughout the world. The meat figures prominently throughout the Middle East, India, Asia, the Mediterranean and Central and South America. In general, lamb takes well to gutsy herbs, hot spices (cooled with mint, cilantro and yogurt), as well as the sour notes of citrus and vinegar.
You can substitute lamb ribs for pork spareribs (baby back ribs) in your favorite recipes. As with pork or beef ribs, lamb ribs are best cooked slowly, with low heat to render their fat and make them super-tender. Granted, this takes time, but the result is rich, tasty meat that falls off the bone with a slight tug.
When working with lamb ribs, a bold marinade adds an extra layer of flavor. (The idea that marinating tenderizes meat has recently been called into question.) The marinade becomes a full-bodied sauce when it is boiled down to thicken it, concentrate the flavors and kill off any bacteria.
For a light supper, serve these ribs, drizzled with sauce and a side of toasted pita or flatbreads, as a party appetizer or when the gang stops by to watch the game. Be sure to include plenty of napkins..
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.