Even way back in season one of MasterChef, when lamb was in the pantry everyone messed with it too much – a beautiful cut of meat is its own star attraction. The meat’s distinctive flavour lends itself to strong accompaniments, which makes it a feature on sub-continental menus, recipes from the Middle East, and the Mediterannean.
There are some classic flavour combos that you think of when you’re cooking lamb: oregano, garlic and lemon for something a bit Greek; garam marsala for Indian cooking; sumac and pomegranate for something from Persia; lentils and spices for something Moroccan; or potato and pie crust for a bit of British sensibilities. But you can also experiment: use classic South East Asian flavours like fresh coriander, ginger, chilli and garlic to make spice lamb chops with sambal; or rework an Aussie classic like a surf and turf, but replace the steak with lamb and adding a laksa sauce, crumbed cauliflower and scallops in place of the typical prawn topping. This dish is so multicultural it requires several passports.
Lamb lends itself to a big reveal, so why not roast a whole leg of lamb, or try French trimming a rack of lamb for that restaurant aesthetic. Did you know that a rack of lamb is simply a collection of lamb cutlets that haven’t been separated yet?
A chop sounds like a simple thing, but there are many varieties to choose from. For maximum tenderness and quick cooking in a pan or on a barbecue you want a loin chop (the lamb equivalent of a t-bone steak) or a cutlet. These are also your higher end cuts or a classic shank cooked in red wine for when you want to impress your dining partner.
For harder working muscles that stand up to longer cook times, there are chump chops from the hind leg – still barbecue friendly but a marinade will help add softness – or a forequarter chop from the front leg. This is the cut to choose if you’re making a lamb curry.
Another trick to perfect lamb chops is to utilise the fat. The fillet and loin meat on a loin chop is lean but comes with a lovely fat cap along the back and tail. Apply them fat side down to a very hot pan first so as to free up some of that fat for cooking and caramelise the edges for maximum flavour.
No matter what season it is, when contestants on MasterChef are faced with a piece of lamb the consensus is to keep it simple – treat the meat with respect and bolster the plate with colour, texture and flavour from vegetables. It might be the wintery, earthy flavours of beetroot and parsnip; a slightly Gallic-flavoured goat’s cheese mousse and roast pumpkin; fennel and pistacchio for some Italian influence; carrots four ways; or smoked tahini yoghurt and onion marmalade