Sunday, April 25, 2010

We didn't cook a dog. Dogs have personality.

Jules: Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I ain't eat nothin' that ain't got sense enough to disregard its own feces.

Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.

Jules: I don't eat dog either.

Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?

Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.

Okay, all you North Shore Animal League folks can relax. It's not a dog we cooked. It's a lamb (P.E.T.A. folks continuing not to relax). However, you have to admit that it does look like we've got Fido hooked up to the spit:

So, dog lovers, rest easy. Lamb lovers (and I'm not talking about "lamb with a side of potatoes"), sorry. Lamb lovers (as in "lamb with a side of potatoes"), here's how it's done:

1 whole lamb (about 25.30 lb.), head off*
Kosher or Sea Salt
6 lemons, halved
3 or 4 footlong branches of fresh rosemary
thin copper wire
6 oz. lemon juice
6 oz. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup oregano
32 oz. olive oil (extra virgin or regular)

*when I cook whole hogs, I usually get head-on, because the cheeks offer some of the best meat on the animal (and the ears and tongue are good eatin' too). With lamb, the heads are heavy, but I don't believe they bring as much meat to the table, so I opt to leave them off rather than pay for the extra weight.

1) Dig a 4' x 2' pit, or block off an area with bricks or stones on a non-flammable area of your your yard. For example, doing this in a bed of pinestraw would be a bad idea. Build a fire with charcoal (not the lighter fluid-infused kind, unless you like meat that tastes like lighter fluid) and/or wood (I used both). Once the coals are ashy, move them to the perimeter of the rectangle, leaving the middle empty.

2) Unwrap your mummified lamb (make sure it's thawed; you can order them in at a butcher shop and have them hold it for you until thawed, as most come in frozen...unless there's a farm around the corner from you). Rub the inside and out with salt. Fill the cavity with the halved lemons and rosemary sprigs. Close the body cavity with the copper wire.

3) Mix the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, rosemary, oregano, and salt-to-taste in a large bowl. While whisking, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl to create an emulsion. This "vinaigrette" will serve as your baste for the lamb.

4) Secure your lamb to your spit with the meat forks on the spit rod and tie the legs with copper wire and secure to the rod. We also used some additional copper wire to wrap around the middle of the beast. Secure the spit rod to your rack (we made one out of 3/4" iron gas pipe's about 4 feet wide). Position the lamb about 18-24" above the fire, depending on how hot it is. We also put a pan in the middle of the fire pit to catch tasty drippings. The area in the picture to the left is where I'm burning more wood to create coals to shovel onto the cooking fire when those coals get low...about every hour or so.

5) When your small grill rotisserie motor does not have the power to turn the lamb, curse momentarily, and then get creative. We tied some twine to the neck and positioned the lamb on its side over the fire, then secured the twine at that angle on the top post of the spit rack. The lamb only needed to be repositioned about every 30 minutes.

6) Every time you reposition the lamb, make sure to baste liberally with the olive oil mixture. I make a "mop" out of a stick and some strips of a dishrag. You can also buy mini mops at BBQ supply stores.

7) Your lamb should be done in about 3-4 hours, but the best way to check is with a meat thermometer. Stick it in the thickest part of one of the legs, and also in one of the shoulders. 145˚ means medium-rare. 155˚ is medium. 165˚ is well-done. Once mine hit mid-rare, I boosted the coals underneath, basted it up, and positioned the critter on each side for about 10 minutes to crisp up the skin.

This was my first go at it, and I was happy with the results, but I'd like to try it again with a proper rotisserie motor. There's definitely an element of "feel" when it comes to cooking the beast evenly, and I moved coals around to the thicker parts, as well as just kept an eye one what was cooking and what wasn't. In the end, it ended up a little more cooked than how I would want a rack of lamb at a restaurant, but everything was very moist and tender, so I wasn't complaining. The dogs didn't complain either; they clearly knew it was a lamb and not one of their own...or they just didn't care.

For wines, I alway encourage folks to drink what they like. When I'm messin' with lamb, I gravitate towards big reds: Syrah in particular. Zinfandel is also a nice pairing, or a smoky Malbec or Tempranillo-based red wine. For something a little lighter, a Grenache-based wine would be good. Here's a lineup of what we knocked back, bellies full of an animal with no personality (otherwise, we wouldn't eat it...maybe):

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