Sunday, February 8, 2015

American Lamb Board meets Slow Cooker Lamb Curry

Back in October when I attended the AFBA Byte of Texas conference, the American Lamb Board had a table with all sorts of lamb information and a very knowledgeable representative, Tyler.  I'm no stranger to the the benefits of quality, sustainably grown, humanly raised meat but I had no idea of the fact that lamb was so far ahead of the curve than beef or really any other meat produced in the U.S. in those regards.  They had a sign up to win a leg of lamb, so of course I signed up.  Shortly after the conference, I got an email offering me a leg of lamb!  Awesomeness! I provided my shipping info but no lamb arrived.  I finally got around to following up and it ends up the Internet had eaten my email.  Tyler fixed that and within a few days, a leg of lamb was delivered in the cutest lunch sack ever.  

It says, "Baaaa Appetit!"
Oh, the pressure was on.  I had a leg of lamb and the American Lamb Board watching me.  All I needed was a recipe.  I had actually just slow cooked a leg of lamb by simply coating it in a spice blend I got at the conference, so I wanted something different and preferably in the slow cooker. I searched around and there really weren't that many paleo lamb slow cooker curries around.  I found this Slow Cooker Lamb Curry from Honey Ghee and Me, but found the yellowy pictures unappetizing so I asked a few paleo bloggers for suggestions.  

Yes, you read that right, I was going to judge the recipe on the picture and yes, I fully acknowledge my pictures are by and large awful, but this isn't a pretty presentation food styling blog, this is a get in your kitchen and make some healthy food for real and actually eat it blog. Well, the first suggestion I got was the very same recipe and the person had actually tried it.  I took it as a sign.  

It was time to gather my ingredients and get to work.  The recipe includes making quinoa, but I'm skipping that part.  

My first step was to measure out all of the spices.  The sauce for this recipe is mixed up right in the slow cooker crock.  Sweet!  The recipe list calls for "pepper" and then "ground black pepper" a few ingredients later.  I interpreted the first pepper as black pepper as well and simply combined the measurements.  

For those of you who have not cooked a leg of lamb before, when you take the leg of lamb out of the package, if its de-boned as mine was, it will be in a netting holding it together (see the picture at the very bottom of this post).  When you remove the netting, you can flatten out the lamb for easy cutting.  The recipe calls for a bone-in leg of lamb, but I figured I'd be fine with this de-boned one.  I bet having the bone in the recipe in the slow cooker will add flavor.  

I then cut the lamb leg up into stew meat sized chunks.  The recipe calls for 1 pound of lamb, but says it can be doubled.  My leg of lamb was 3.5 pounds.  I decided to take the chance that it'd work with that much meat.  I supposed I could have saved some for something else, but I live dangerously.  

I chopped up the onion, peeled the ginger with a peeler and removed the skin the garlic (by smashing it with a glass).  I've seen many things on social media lately suggesting using a spoon to peel ginger. In my experience that method only works sometimes and I was in no mood to stand there fussing with spoon.   My vegetable peeler always works.  

Next up, I added the liquids to the sauce.  The recipe calls for rice vinegar in addition to the coconut milk.  I substituted coconut vinegar to keep the recipe completely grain free.

I gave the sauce a good whisking before continuing.  If you do, be careful, I had splattering when I got a little to aggressive in my whisking.  

I added the onions, ginger and minced the garlic directly into the crock.

Next up, I added the lamb to the crock. 

I gave everything a good stir before putting the lid on the slow cooker.  The recipe says that the lamb pieces should be completely immersed in the sauce.  Well, mine was not.  Admittedly, the recipe only discusses doubling the meat without adding any extra coconut milk or spices, and I had more than tripled the meat, but as I added the lamb, I noted that really even if I'd just doubled the meat, it would not be fully immersed in the sauce.  

After 3 hours on high in my slow cooker, here's what I had.  There's just no getting around the yellowness in pictures of this recipe.

Accessibility & Cost of Ingredients:  Thank you to the American Lamb Board for sending me the leg of lamb to make this recipe.  I've asked them to let me know how much it would cost if I bought it in the store, but they've not gotten back to me.  I can tell you that I've bought a leg of lamb at Costco for about $5.00/pound.  I'd expect at your "big box" it would be a little higher per pound.  Though the producer of this lamb says that "big box" stores in my area carry their lamb, whether I find any at my "big box" store is hit or miss.  I have better luck at Whole Foods, Sprouts and Costco.  

This recipe has quite a few spices, but if you've been building your spice cabinet, you might have most of them on hand.  If you have to go buy them, your "big box" should have all of them with the exception of maybe the whole mustard seeds.  I've had to get those at Whole Foods. Obviously, if you have to go buy a bunch of the spices, this recipe would be expensive, but look at it as an investment.  You'll use all of these spices in other paleo recipes.  

Preparation & Cooking Time:  It took me 27 minutes to prepare this dish before putting the lid on the  slow cooker.  I'll subtract a generous 5 minutes from that time since I made the spices look pretty for the sake of taking a picture of them in my crock, so I'd allow at least 22 minutes for preparation.  There is no stated preparation time.  I cooked the dish in the slow cooker on high for 3 hours.  

The recipe does have low setting option where you cook it for 5 hours.  I might do that if I'm ever doing it on the weekend and will be home so that the lamb isn't on keep warm for about as long as it cooked as it would on a work day for me.  I made this on a weeknight mainly because the lamb needed to be cooked and could not wait for the weekend.  

Clean Up:  Clean up was minimal as the sauce was mixed in the slow cooker crock rather than using extra bowls.  Everything I used with the exception of the actual slow cooker went into the dish washer.  Shazam!  

The Paleo Review:  Thumbs wayyyyyyyy up!  Here we have yet another tale of not letting a pretty picture or lack there of (or your weird food picture/color hang-ups) influence your decision to make a recipe.  I was skeptical on many fronts that this would turn out well.  I was really concerned that using the high setting on the slow cooker would cause the lamb to turn out tough. I love it when I'm totally wrong- at least with respect to something possibly not being tasty.  

Not only was this probably the most tender non gamey lamb I've ever had, the spices were lovely. It's a nice mild curry flavor.  I may have used a little more ginger than the recipe called for but for me ginger was the predominant flavor in the sauce after curry, but I liked that.  You'll definitely want to make a cauliflower rice or other vegetable rice/noodle substitute to soak up the sauce. Yum!  

What's your favorite lamb recipe?  

Lamb Jam anyone?  The American Lamb Board is doing it's darnedest to get the word out about quality American Lamb and is holding Lamb Jams around the country.  There is a Lamb Jam in Austin on February 22, 2015!   Check out their site to see if they will be in your area.  

Even if there's not a Lamb Jam in your area, check out the American Lamb Board's site.  It's got quite a bit of information about lamb production, a store locator, recipes, and free resources you can order. 

Bonus Recipe:  I'd mentioned making a different leg of lamb with a spice blend at the beginning of the post. It was actually a blend I picked up at the conference from the American Lamb Board. I asked Tyler if I could share the recipe for the blend with you and he says its pre-mixed, but using an equal measure of the ingredients should work.  The ingredients are:  Rosemary, Garlic, Mustard, Mint, and Salt.  They actually sell tins of the blend, but it might be worth a try winging it. I've not tried making it yet as I have still have the pre-mixed.  

When I made this leg of lamb, I simply coated the lamb in the spice, placed it on a bed of sliced onions and cooked it on low in the slow cooker for 8 hours.  This is the lamb I got at Costco.  It's Australian, a little gamey, but still tasty.  I'll have to do a side by side comparison using the same recipe at some point though breed of the lamb could also account for the flavor difference over any difference in origin.  If anything shows I'm not in the pocket of anyone, it's my mentioning and picturing a lamb of a different country after being given lamb by the American Lamb Board.  

Sources/Affiliate Disclosure-  I received the leg of lamb used to prepare the lamb curry from the American Lamb Board.  They didn't ask anything in return though when I said I'd blog using the lamb, they did ask me to post it in time to help get the work out about the Austin Lamb Jam. Done.  I picked up a tin of the spice blend for free at the conference I was attending.  Swag, y'all!  All of my opinions expressed here are my own.