The first sound ever recorded by Thomas Edison’s phonograph in 1877 was the nursery rhyme: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. For most, this poem evokes happy memories of childhood. For me, it evokes my salivary glands to go into overdrive.
Lamb is like Justin Bieber, you either love it or hate it. There is no in between. In fact, the majority of U.S. residents have never tried lamb. As for me, I’m a true Belieber of lamb, especially grilled lamb.
My favorite thing to grill is marinated lamb kebabs that are sure to knock your wool socks off. The best cut to use for kebabs is a boneless leg or shoulder, I prefer legs. If you can only find one with bone-in, kindly ask the butcher to take the bone out. Remember that for best flavors, you will need to marinade it overnight, so plan ahead.
When possible, I try to get lamb from New Zealand. You might be wondering why not American or Australian. Majority of American lamb is confined and fed grain and hay for the last 2-3 months of their lives. Australia is better, but if they have poor grass years they also turn to grain. If you want real grass fed lamb with the most flavor, the type that followed Mary to school and back, stick with New Zealand.
After bringing home the lamb, it is now time to sacrifice it and chop it up into 1 to 2 inch cubes. Try to remove as much fat as possible, the more fat you keep, the more flare-ups you'll get. Our goal is to grill the kebabs, not torch them. Now, set the cut meat aside and let’s move on to the marinade.
The marinade is super simple and this is where you can play around with different ingredients that will impart the flavor and tenderize the meat. The liquid part of the marinade needs to come from something acidic. It could be anything from vinegar to lemon juice to pomegranate molasses. I prefer apple vinegar as this is how my grandfather taught me. He grew up in the Caucasus and if that region is good at anything it is grilling Kebabs (or Shashlik in Russian).
Next, chop up some onions, shallots, and garlic. Add salt, pepper and any other spices you enjoy. Mix everything together massaging all of the ingredients with the meat and let it marinade in the fridge overnight. If you do it right, your hands should smell for a week following the marinating process no matter how much you try to wash them.
Now, when you’re ready to eat, fire up your grill and use this time to skewer the meat. My personal favorite are Steven Raichlen’s signature stainless steel grilling kabob Skewers. The flat wide design ensures that the meat will flip when you turn the skewer and not spin in place. Before skewering, squeeze the meat slightly so that excess marinade doesn't drip onto the coals.
By now, your grill should be HOT and ready for the Kebabs. Grill for 5-10 minutes on each side depending on the size and how well done you like it. Keep a water bottle nearby with a few holes in the cap to spray any flare-ups. Finally the hardest part of the whole process .... let the kebabs rest for 5-10 minutes after taking them off the grill. Every part of your brain and body will tell you otherwise, but hold off on digging in. That's it, you're now a Lamb Kebab grilling ninja!
If you've never tried lamb before or if you think you hate it, I challenge you to give it another shot. But don't take my word for it!
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ~ Thomas Edison