30 The NaTioNal CuliNary review • marCh 2014
incorporate shallots, garlic, tomato via oven-roasted or sundried
tomatoes or tomato jam, and panko. He rolls up the balls and
sautes and braises them with a bit of stock. They are served with
toothpicks. Sometimes, for a little color and flavor variation, he
adds spinach to the meat mixture.
Lamb belly has a more buttery nuance than fat from pork belly,
says Linda Harrell, executive chef/partner at Cibo E Beve, Atlanta.
“I handle lamb belly the same as pork belly. But it’s more tender
and richer and has a melt-in-your-mouth quality.” Her favorite way
to serve lamb belly is atop polenta or mashed potatoes. She has
also used lamb belly to make lamb ragoût, in which the fat causes
the flavor of the ragoût to explode.
Think of lamb belly more as a meat than a fat, suggests
John Critchley, executive chef at Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons,
Washington, D.C. Cook it slowly as you would pork belly to render
out the fat, and you end up with a soft, tender meat. The difference
is that lamb belly is much smaller, so it doesn’t take as long to cook.
Then, consider the different flavors that go well with lamb,
such as mustard. “Use ground mustard seeds mixed with olive oil
and rosemary, and rub it on with salt and pepper. Or, rub with
whole-grain mustard and sear it before you braise it,” Critchley
says. “Mustard has nice acidity to it, and it’s a good base to bring
out the natural flavors of the lamb.”
Wood flavors, such as those in juniper, pine, rosemary and
thyme, also work well with lamb. “I use a lot more Mediterranean
flavors,” Critchley says, as well as chilies, dried flowers and herbs.
Scelfo notes that lamb stands up to stronger flavors. To make
smoked lamb belly on steamed bun, he combines Japanese mayo,
Sriracha and rice wine vinegar for a sauce that he drizzles over
the cured and smoked lamb meat on a steamed pao bun. He tops
it with mixed leaves of mint, Thai basil and cilantro along with
housemade radish and cucumber pickles.
The ingredient flavors accent the flavor of the lamb, and “the
steamed bun, in general, is a perfect bite of food,” he says.
Sweet flavors do not combine as well with lamb belly as with
pork belly, Rosenbluh says. You can add a sweet complement to
the plate, but don’t make the lamb sweet. “Taste your product and
be mindful of how to use it, not wasting good product.”
bits about bacon
After coming to terms with the flavor and cooking-style nuances
of lamb belly, try your hand at bacon, pancetta or charcuterie
preparations. To cure lamb belly for bacon, DeJohn sautes a host of
whole herbs and spices, bringing out the natural oils to use as part
of the lamb belly brine that also includes curing salt, sea salt and
sugar. He wraps it in cheesecloth, lays it in a strain pan and places a
weight on top to help press out any liquid. This takes less time than
for pork belly—only 36-38 hours. He refrigerates at 50ºF or less,
and warns that the longer it cures, the more salty it becomes.
“When it’s done, rinse it gently under cold water, pat it dry and
you’re ready to go. You can braise it whole or slice it,” he says. The
result is perfect for use in small plates or hors d’oeuvres such as
lamb bacon slices speared with a toothpick and served with Asian
glaze or a mint glaze.
meaT maTTerS bring home the bacon with lamb belly
Top left: lamb belly on toast makes a unique bar snack, with the toast offering a crunch element. Top right: Consider combining the peppery flavor of arugula with the powerful
flavor of lamb belly on flatbread for an appetizer.
opposite, top: Smoked and Braised lamb Belly on Steamed Bun won honors for michael Scelfo at the 2013 american lamb Jam event. opposite, bottom: Part of the
Southeast asian flavor of this lamb Belly Baozi prepared by John Critchley comes from the lemon grass, lime and ginger incorporated inside the bun.