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4/12/2017 7:03 am  #1

Ham or Lamb?

Ham or Lamb? The Easter Choice May Be Changing

For Easter cooks, there is one fundamental question: Is yours a lamb family or a ham family?

Like most Americans, mine are ham people. My mother grew up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin. When the weather turned cold, they slaughtered a few pigs and hung the hams in the curing room. In the spring, after a long Lenten diet of self-denial, they pulled out a ham and it became Easter dinner.

We should have probably been a lamb family. My parents’ roots are in Italy and Norway. Italians do all kinds of great things with spring lamb, some of the best of it coming from Abruzzo, the region my maternal grandparents were from. The Norwegians go wild for lamb and oranges at Easter.

But the family tree never came into play. (And I’m sure they had no idea that some scholars link Easter ham to an ancient Babylonian myth about a god named Tammuz who was killed by a pig.) For my older relatives, the choice was simply a matter of economics and agriculture. Like most of their neighbors, they raised pigs for the family table, not sheep.

My mom married my dad, and they eventually moved to the suburbs. Each Easter, she would reach into the refrigerator case at the supermarket for a ham that had been sweetened and smoked through the miracle of modern food science.

These were big hams, even for a family with five kids. In the days and weeks after Easter, ham starred in scalloped potatoes, filled our sandwiches for school and, finally, became the only reason to make pea soup. And every year, it afforded my father the opportunity to tell a favorite joke: You know the definition of eternity? Two people and a ham.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that lamb is perhaps the better move at Easter. It’s partly because I love an underdog.

Lamb has long been the seasonal and spiritual celebratory spring meat in much of the world, sacrificed to welcome the growing season even before Jews, Christians and Muslims organized their own rituals around cooking it. But in modern America, lamb has never been as plentiful or popular as beef or pork. The average American eats just under a pound of it a year, said Megan Wortman, who has been the executive director of the American Lamb Board for 15 years. By comparison, we eat about 50 pounds of pork a year per capita, and even more beef and chicken.

In Australia, which loves its sheep and supplies about half of our lamb, people eat 21 pounds of lamb each. “Everybody eats lamb but Americans,” Ms. Wortman said.

Although sheep brought by Spanish colonists were adopted by Native American tribes in the Southwest, and other breeds became essential to British colonists in the East, pigs and cattle have long been the preferred meat animals for the Northern Europeans whose culture came to dominate America. Still, lamb (from a sheep that is about a year old or younger) and mutton (which comes from mature sheep) used to be more common when wool was in higher demand. In the 1940s, there were 56 million sheep in the United States. Now there are about six million.

The need for wool ebbed with the rise of synthetic fabrics and the end of World War II, when wool manufacturers were no longer pressed to make uniforms. The war also helped kill America’s appetite for meat from sheep: Canned mutton was included in military rations, Ms. Wortman said, and soldiers came home vowing never to eat it again.

Lamb chops remained a luxury item, reserved for a restaurant meal or a special dinner at home. A leg of lamb, with its varying muscle groups, was trickier to cook than a ham. Home cooks broke out the mint jelly and hoped for the best.

Today, the American taste for lamb is changing, in part because both new immigrants and more adventurous younger eaters are changing the American palate. Good-tasting, well-raised lamb is becoming more available. Since 2009, lamb sales have jumped by about 28 percent, rising to 59 million pounds in 2016 from 46 million pounds, according to a study of store scanner data. (The numbers do not include stores like Costco or lamb sold to restaurants.)

Braised lamb neck, lamb burgers and lamb ribs are on an increasing number of menus. About 10 percent of all lamb sales are now ground lamb, a product that was impossible to find a decade ago, Ms. Wortman said.

Even deep in ham country, people are trying to bridge the ham-lamb divide. Every Easter, the chef Ouita Michel prepares both a city ham and a roasted leg of lamb for a big Easter brunch buffet at her Holly Hill Inn, about a half-hour’s drive west from Lexington, Ky. There, spring is the start of horse-racing season, country ham season and lambing season.

“Around here we always eat a lot of lamb in the spring because it’s lambing season, but for some reason its always ham on Easter,” Ms. Michel said. Her Easter guests invariably eat twice as much ham as lamb, she said. She prefers ham, too.

“I grew up thinking about how Jesus is the lamb of God, so it would be weird to devour lamb on Easter,” she said.

Just across the North Carolina border in Virginia, Craig Rogers is deep into lambing season. He is a star shepherd, providing grass-fed lambs through his Border Springs Farm brand to some of the country’s best chefs. “Easter and Greek Easter for me is like any other retailer’s Christmas,” he said.

Still, his is not a big operation. On average, he sells only about 2,000 pounds a week. Part of the problem is logistics. Although there are close to 80,000 lamb producers in the country, there aren’t nearly enough processing centers or distributors.

“If someone called me today and wanted 20 legs for Easter, I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I have animals, but the slaughterhouses are jammed.”

A few years back, he had the idea to revive lamb ham, a Colonial-era method of preserving a leg of lamb with nothing but salt, hickory smoke and time. The leg can go from slaughter to table in six months, a much shorter time than a pork ham.

He joined forces with Sam Edwards III at Edwards Virginia Smokehouse in Surry County, Va. Mr. Edwards’s family has been making ham for four generations. He agreed to hang 1,315 lamb hams for Mr. Rogers, but they were all lost in a fire in February 2016.

As Mr. Edwards and his family rebuild the business, lamb hams will return, Mr. Rogers said. But for the American lamb business to flourish, the supply needs to become more consistent and its production methods more uniform.

Recently, more home cooks have begun learning their way around lamb. The rising interest in food from Israel and other parts of the Middle East is helping. I’ve been turning to my collection of cookbooks from Italian cooks like Marcella Hazan and recipes from California lamb fans like Suzanne Goin and Judy Rodgers.

I took a spinoff of Ms. Hazan’s recipe for Roman spring lamb braised with vinegar, rosemary and anchovy and topped it with a crunchy sugar snap pea salad charged with Calabrian chiles that I picked up from Whitney Otawka, who cooks at the Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island in Georgia. It converted a few of my lamb-skeptical friends.

So if you’re a ham family, maybe this is the year to jump the fence. Good lamb can be found at an increasing number of quality grocery stores and — for those with the cash and the proximity — from boutique shepherds like Mr. Rogers.

“When I first started, people would try my lamb and say they never liked lamb before,” he said. “It’s just that so many people, especially the older generation like myself, don’t like lamb because they don’t know lamb.”

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

4/12/2017 7:12 am  #2

Re: Ham or Lamb?

I'm a lamb lover.
But, it is a hard sell to some in the family.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

4/12/2017 10:40 am  #3

Re: Ham or Lamb?

Roman-Style Spring Lamb With Fresh Sugar Snap Pea Salad


The Romans make a classic dish in the spring with very young milk-fed lamb. Such meat is hard to find in American supermarkets, but the technique, which involves a short braise in vinegar and water with a boost of anchovy at the end, works fine with chunks of lamb cut from a leg or roast of any young lamb. This recipe is built on the precise technique for abbacchio alla cacciatora that Marcella Hazan offered in "The Classic Italian Cookbook," with some freshening up. The braised chunks of meat are topped with a crunchy sugar snap pea salad that carries the heat of Calabria peppers, a recipe from Whitney Otawka, who grew up in California and now cooks in Georgia. (The salad is a great stand-alone recipe, too, and one that would be terrific alongside a ham, if yours is an Easter ham family.)

1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds young lamb from the shoulder or the leg, cut into uniform 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons cooking fat, preferably lard or olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons flour
½ cup white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
4 large anchovy fillets, chopped
3 cups sugar snap pea salad with Calabrian pepper and fennel (see recipe), omitting the pecorino Romano

Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the lamb cubes, tossing a few times to distribute it evenly. Heat the fat in a large, sturdy sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown the pieces of lamb, working in batches if needed so the meat is not crowded in the pan.

Reduce heat to medium and return all the meat and any juices to the pan. Add the rosemary and garlic and cook for another minute or so, turning the meat. Sift the flour over the meat, and turn again so the flour is absorbed. This should take just another minute or so. Add the vinegar and bring it to a boil, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 cup water, then lower the heat so the liquid barely simmers and then cover the pan.

Cook for an hour, or until the meat is very tender, turning it every once in a while. Add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce is too thick or the meat is beginning to stick to the pan.

Mash the anchovies in a small bowl. Take about 1/3 cup of the sauce and mix it well with the anchovies. Add the mixture back to the meat, stirring briefly so the meat is well coated. Put the meat on a platter and arrange the pea salad across the top. Or, divide into 6 servings and top each with 1/2 cup of the salad.

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

4/12/2017 3:46 pm  #4

Re: Ham or Lamb?

love lamb, love ham, love fresh "ham" cooked as "pernil"... I'm a carnivore who also loves vegetables....  
these look delicious!!!


4/13/2017 6:23 am  #5

Re: Ham or Lamb?

Tropicalfox wrote:

love lamb, love ham, love fresh "ham" cooked as "pernil"... I'm a carnivore who also loves vegetables....  
these look delicious!!!

I have only recently discovered the magic of pernil. 
It's fantastic!

We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 
     Thread Starter

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