If lamb is part of your Easter tradition, be prepared to pay more for it this year.
Prices for some lamb cuts are a few dollars higher now than last year. And they're nearly double for fancier cuts, such as rack of lamb.
Meat packers, butchers and chefs say the increase is because of a shortage of imported lamb and the weak American dollar. And higher fuel costs affect nearly everything.
"The import market really influences the market over here," said Mark Critchfield, president of Critchfield Meats. "There's not much lamb coming into the United States.
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"Australia and New Zealand have had a lot of bad weather and more demand on the domestic market has driven the prices up, along with grain and transportation costs."
Prices for specialty cuts are "through the roof," Critchfield said.
A French rack is $20 a pound. At Critchfield, lamb is on sale this week. Semi-boneless, which normally sells for $9 a pound, is $6.99.
Critchfield sells Kentucky-raised lamb "from time to time."
"It's hard, trying to find it on the wholesale end," Critchfield said. Local producers are moving whole lambs, and the majority of Critchfield sales is on the wholesale level to restaurants and caterers.
"Restaurants want the nicer cuts, the rack or loin, and producers are stuck with the trim," he said.
Critchfield does accept special orders for local lamb. Call (859) 255-6021 or go to Critchfieldmeats.com.
Whatever cut you choose, just don't overcook it.
"People shouldn't be intimidated by cooking lamb," said Yvonne Uhlianuk, 67, owner of Mt. Bruce Station, a farm in Romeo, Mich., that has 50 head of sheep.
Uhlianuk said you should cook lamb like any other red meat. She suggested buying boneless leg, because it's easier to handle, cook and carve.
"Use a combination of fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme and oregano mixed with a little olive oil, and rub all over the leg," she said.
Roasted rack of lamb with herb crust
This recipe features a breadcrumb crust with fresh herbs. Serve with roasted new potatoes.
2 racks of lamb (about 2½ to 3 pounds), trimmed
1 cup coarse, fresh crumbs from French bread, or panko crumbs
2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chicken stock
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the racks of lamb in a roasting pan, bone side down, and roast 20-25 minutes for medium-rare. (If desired, sear the racks of lamb in a large skillet before roasting to reduce the roasting time to about 15 minutes.) Test for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of the lamb; it should read at least 125 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, shallots, mustard, basil, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil and chicken stock; mix well.
Remove the lamb from the oven, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Pat the crumb mixture onto the lamb and place it under the broiler 2 to 3 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from the broiler and let sit 5 minutes. Slice into chops and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 446 calories (42 percent from fat), 21 g. fat, 21 g. carbohydrates, 42 g. protein, 411 mg. sodium, 125 mg. cholesterol, 1 g. fiber.
Adapted from American Bistro by Diane Rossen Worthington (Chronicle Books, $29.95).
Herb crusted boneless leg of lamb
Ask the butcher to de-bone and butterfly the leg of lamb for you, but keep the bone to use when roasting the lamb.
4 to 5 pounds boneless leg of lamb
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine
2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
Reserved lamb bone
Chicken broth, wine or water
½ cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Place lamb in a plastic bag. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together all the marinade ingredients and pour over the lamb. Seal bag and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Remove lamb from refrigerator 1 hour before roasting. Have ready a roasting pan with a rack. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pour any remaining marinade in the bottom of the roasting pan. Place the lamb bone in the marinade and add about 1 cup broth or wine or water to the pan.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix all the herb crust ingredients and rub all over the lamb. Roll up the lamb and tie at intervals with kitchen twine or secure with butcher's netting.
Place the lamb on the rack. Roast about 15 minutes or until nicely browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue roasting about 45 minutes more or until the internal temperature is 125 degrees.
Transfer the lamb to a carving board, cover loosely with foil and let stand for 10 minutes. Place the roasting pan over two burners and cook over moderate heat while scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add more broth to the pan if needed, and cook for about 1 minute. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Discard the string and carve the lamb into thick slices. Arrange on a platter and pour any carving juices into the sauce, spooning it over the lamb to serve.
Makes 10 servings.
Nutrition information based on 5 ounces cooked lamb: 403 calories, 26 g. fat, 2 g. carbohydrates, 37 g. protein, 568 mg. sodium, 130 mg. cholesterol, 0 g. fiber.