Lamb is a popular dish in the spring. There are religious reasons. In Christian tradition, a lamb is symbolic of the risen Christ and is often the centerpiece of the Easter meal. In some Jewish homes, lamb is served during Passover, reminding believers of the Old Testament account of how households that adorned their door posts with the blood of the paschal lamb were spared from destruction.
In some of Maryland's ethnic communities, lamb is the first choice for a ceremonial meal, regardless of the season. "If you are Muslim or Greek and thinking about a celebration, you are thinking about lamb," said Susan Schoenian, sheep and goat specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center in Keedysville.
For some local farmers, spring is when some smaller lambs go to market. "In Maryland, some lambs are born in January and February and come to market when they are 3 to 5 months old," said David Greene, who raises 100 to 140 lambs a year on his Baltimore County farm. He sells the meat, as whole animals or cuts, at his farm. He feeds his spring lambs grain and puts others in pasture. These grass-fed animals don't come to market until the fall, he said. Grass-fed meat costs more, but is lower in fat and calories.
David Smith, proprietor of Springfield Farm in Sparks, is a fan of grass-fed, or foraging, lambs. He has a flock of about 30; he also has "handshake agreements" with a number of local lamb farmers to provide cuts of lamb sold year-round at his farm and on its Web site. According to Smith, grass-fed lamb is tenderer than grain-fed lamb, and has more flavor than lamb shipped from New Zealand and sold in supermarkets.
While spring is a busy time at Woolsey Farm in Churchville, Cindi Umbarger and her husband, Worley, manage their flock to produce lambs year-round. The Umbargers feed lambs grain and grass and sell the meat at the Saturday morning farmers' market on 32nd Street in Waverly and at Broom's Bloom Dairy in Bel Air.
Buying: When selecting lamb, look for meat that is clear red in color, with white, waxy-looking fat, says Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The Essential Mediterranean.
Cooking: For roasting, Jenkins says the leg and shoulder are preferred, while the shank, which is used to represent the paschal sacrifice on the ceremonial Passover Seder plate, also makes a succulent piece for stewing. Butterflied leg is often cooked on a grill. Rack of lamb is an elegant cut often served at dinner parties.
LOCAL LAMB SOURCES
Greene's Lamb: , 2014 White Hall Road, White Hall. 410-329-6241. Whole lamb and cuts; call before you come. Some cuts, such as leg of lamb, might be in short supply at Easter.
Springfield Farm: , 16701 Yeoho Road, Sparks. 410-472-0738; ourspringfieldfarm.com. Cuts of meat.
Broom's Bloom Dairy, 1700 S. Fountain Green Road, Bel Air. 410-399-2697. A dairy and retail store that sells locally produced lamb.
The Mill of Bel Air: , 424 N. Main St., Bel Air. 410-838-6111. This place sells lamb from the farm of state Sen. Barry Glassman.
32nd Street Farmers' Market: , 32nd Street near Greenmount Avenue, 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays, year-round. The Woolsey Farm stand sells cuts of lamb.
NUT-CRUSTED RACK OF LAMB
salt and pepper to taste
1 rack of lamb, about 3 pounds (allow 2 to 4 chops per person)
2 tablespoons molasses or honey, at room temperature
2 to 4 tablespoons finely ground pistachios or walnuts
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup demiglace or chicken stock
Heat a saute pan over high heat until nearly smoking. Season with salt and pepper and place lamb in pan, fat side down. Sear until browned. Turn lamb and sear other side of the meat. Remove from the pan; let sit until just cool enough to handle.
Brush fat (rounded side) of lamb with molasses or honey in a thin layer. Sprinkle nuts over coated lamb, pressing gently to adhere.
Place lamb on a roasting pan and roast in a 400-degree oven to desired doneness (about 20 minutes for rare). Let rest in a warm place. While rack rests, prepare sauce by pouring fat off the saute pan that lamb was seared in. Add pomegranate juice and shallots and reduce by half.
Add demiglace or chicken stock and a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and reduce to a sauce consistency. Slice lamb into chops and serve warm with sauce.
Courtesy of Susan Watterson, an instructor at CulinAerie, a cooking school in Washington.
Per serving: : 483 calories, 60 grams protein, 19 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 14 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 187 milligrams cholesterol, 212 milligrams sodium