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More Fat Means Gamier Flavor in Lamb

By Dan Souza Published

Our testing shows that you can control the funkiness of lamb flavor by choosing between grass-fed and grain-fed, selecting particular cuts, and trimming more or less fat.

When we cook a rib-eye steak or roast a rack of lamb, it's the muscle itself (rather than the fat or water contained in and around it) that most grabs our attention. This makes sense, given that the muscle fibers provide much of the characteristic color and texture of a given cut. And yet, when it comes to flavor, we might just be better off focusing on the fat, especially when dealing with lamb. Research has shown that unique branched-chain fatty acids are responsible for much of the “grassy” and “gamey” flavor we associate with lamb. To find out just how important these fatty acids are, we ran the following experiment.

Experiment

We separately ground lean domestic lamb from the loin and domestic lamb fat trim from the rib section and then combined them in varying ratios to create three different blends. The first consisted of 100 percent lean meat. The second contained 90 percent lean meat and 10 percent fat, and the third contained 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fat. We made 20-gram burger patties out of each blend and cooked them in a hot skillet until well browned on both sides (at which point the thin patties were fully cooked). We had tasters try all three samples and note the intensity of the lamb flavor for each.

Results

Tasters unanimously found the 90:10 and 80:20 blends to have more characteristic lamb flavor than the 100 percent lean patties. While the responses were more split for the meat and fat blends, a slight majority of tasters marked the 80:20 blend has having more lamb flavor than the 90:10 patties.

Takeaway

We find it intriguing that even though they technically contained less lamb meat, both the 90:10 and 80:20 blends tasted more like lamb. This test provides further support to the old adage that fat equals flavor. We would argue that when it comes to lamb, that correlation cannot be overstated.

With this knowledge we have a greater ability to cook lamb to our particular tastes. Beyond choosing between grass-fed and grain-fed lamb, we can choose the right cut at the supermarket. Cuts from the shank, shoulder (including roasts, chops, and stew meat) have more fat and thus a more intensely lamby flavor, while cuts like rack of lamb, rib chops, and loin chops have less fat and taste sweeter. Lamb flavor can also be controlled in the kitchen by adjusting fat content through trimming. Removing some, or all, of the fat cap on a rack of lamb, for example, will create an even milder end product, while leaving it intact will boost lamb flavor.

The Flavor of Lamb is in the Fat

We ran a taste test containing three samples of lamb—one containing 100 percent meat, another with 90 percent meat and 10 percent fat, and a third with 80 percent meat and 20 percent fat. The results? Tasters unanimously found the samples containing fat far more "lamby" than the pure meat sample. When it comes to lamb, fat really does equal flavor.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.