I Love Lamb Fat
Warning: this post is not for those who insist on healthy eating at all times. But if you're adventurous, and enjoy an occasional indulgence with absolutely no redeeming qualities other than taste, read on.
First, you must like lamb. Because lamb fat is essence of lamb, just as chicken feet are essence of chicken. That's why I like both and, for the first time in more than a decade, feasted on lamb fat for dinner Saturday.
I've loved lamb fat since I was a kid, when my mom would make barely trimmed rib lamb chops only in the summer. Because she hated the smell of lamb she could cook them outside and not stink up her kitchen. My father and I devoured them; she ate chicken.
I rekindled my love of lamb fat in Jerusalem about ten years ago at a shashlik joint called Shemesh Quick Bar on Ben Yehuda Street. They also served grilled goose fat along with more traditional kebab meats.
The lamb fat for Saturday's feast was procured from Martin's Quality Meats at the Reading Terminal Market. I intended only to get some double-thick lamb rib chops, asking the butcher not to supply me with one of the puny, bulemic Frenched chops displayed out front in the case but cut some afresh, leaving plenty of fat. What he brought me had some fat along the bone, but not nearly enough to my taste.
"I love lamb fat," I told him.
So he took out another set of ribs and cut off the fat in a sheet of about nine inches square and a few smaller pieces, wrapped them and handed to me gratis, noting that he left traces of meat within the fat slabs. (Normally these trimmings simply go into the discard bin.)
Once home I unwrapped the precious package and cut the fat into strips about an inch wide, discarding the ragged ends. How to cook?
I knew I wanted to use my grill, but worried about the strips falling through the grates. I didn't want to lose one delicious morsel. So I took out three banboo skewers, about eight inches long or so each, and threaded three strips onto each. I chopped some fresh rosemary, pulverized four or five garlic cloves with kosher salt, and mixed it all together with fresh ground black pepper, then smeared it wantonly over the skewers and chops. I let it all sit for the 10 or 15 minutes it took to bring the grill to heat.
As anyone who has cooked lamb chops over direct grill heat knows, the more fat the higher the flames, raising the odds of winding up with pure carbon for dinner. Fortunate that my Weber gas grill has three burners, I put two of them to high heat and the third rear burner on low. If you have a charcoal grill, only put coals on one side.
Once everything heated up, and greasing the grates with a square of the excess fat, I started out with the skewers on the low back burner, hood closed so they would start cooking without calling in the fire department, moving them over the high heat three or four minutes later. Once under high heat, they needed near constant checking and turning. After they had reached the state of char I desired they returned to the back burner while I concentrated on cooking the actual chops.
When the chops were done I brought the meat and fat to the table, my only accompaniment being some celeriac remoulade I prepped earlier in the day. The side dish was an excellent choice, since its mustardy tang cut through the main course's richness.
Piping hot is the only way to eat lamb fat (unlike the chops which you want to rest to allow the juices to be reabsorbed) so I dug right in. Although I ate them straight, they'd also be good on pita (with a spread of hummus and a bit of raw onion) or small flour tortillas (cilantro, raw onion, radish; skip the salsa).
I ate it all and don't regret it. Although I won't be making them next week, I won't wait ten years for my next taste.