Tuesday, January 01, 2008


As I've mentioned previously, my husband is Armenian, and I have been fortunate enough to learn many of his family's Armenian recipes. Among my favorites is kebab, which you probably think is pronounced "ku-BOB" and is some form of beef on a stick. Hmm. I've got better things for you than that.

Kebab (pronounced "KAY-bob"), how I've come to know it, is leg of lamb that is carefully cut and marinated, then placed on skewers and grilled. My mother-in-law often cooks it in the oven, as well, especially in winter, but I've only done that once before, and quite a while ago, so I can't give you specific instructions on that. I'll have to call her first.

If you haven't had lamb before, let me tell you a bit what it's like. It's full-flavored like most red meat, fragrant, and has a slightly tangier taste than beef. That's probably the best I can do to describe it, but it's not only a very delicious meat, it is especially good when grilled, as the stronger flavors from grilling pair well with the stronger flavors of a red meat. I've tried making roast leg of lamb before and have been both successful and regretful as it is quite lean and can easily end up tough. This is probably why restaurants usually recommend serving it medium rare.

If you have had lamb before, you either love it or don't really care for it. If you're not sure or it's been a while, I highly recommend trying this method. The process used here makes the lamb very tender and balances some of its stronger flavors with other equally strong but familiar ingredients. I think the first time I had lamb, I wasn't so crazy about it. It tasted terribly new, but by the next time I tried it, it didn't have that foreign flavor about it and I completely fell for it. If you've had mutton and don't care for it at all, keep in mind that mutton has a much stronger flavor than lamb and is also a much tougher meat, being from an older sheep.

As far as I know, lamb sold in the U.S. mainly comes from three places (though there are many other small producers): New Zealand, Australia, and Colorado. I'm pretty sure the New Zealanders and the Australians fight over who produces the best lamb, but I'm also pretty sure that until lately, most lamb connoisseurs considered New Zealand to be the finest producer. I don't hear that kind of talk anymore, so I don't know if the Australians have produced a better lamb or if domestic lamb has hushed the argument.

While I really enjoy serving lamb, legs of lamb are always larger than we can eat in one or two sittings (especially since it is quite rich), usually being about 4 lbs. or so of fairly lean meat, so I generally only fix this when entertaining guests, and then only if I feel confident they'll eat lamb.

As a side note, we also use this same recipe for chicken breasts if we are going for something healthier or a smaller dinner, and we'll often make both lamb and chicken kebab if we're serving a crowd. The chicken kebab is fantastic served with buffalo sauce (one part butter to two parts Frank's Red Hot cayenne pepper sauce, heated together).


1 leg of lamb
2 or 3 large white onions, chopped
6 to 8 cloves garlic (or more), chopped
olive oil (preferably extra virgin)
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
skewers (metal are best, otherwise soak your wooden skewers for 30 minutes before using them)
charcoal grill

First, prepare the meat. Cut into cubes about 1 1/4" across, carefully cutting away any connective tissue and fat (you won't need the fat for the meat to be tender). You should create three piles while cutting the lamb: one for kebab, one for gristle you'll throw away, and one for larger pieces of fat and scraps of meat. This will take a good amount of time, so make sure you set aside an hour or so for this.

In a bowl, place the cubed meat with the onions, garlic, about 1/3 c. of olive oil, plenty of salt, and a generous amount of pepper. With very clean hands, mix all the ingredients together, being sure to spread the onions, garlic, and olive throughout and kneading as necessary to coat the meat completely. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours, but probably not more than six. I'm sure it seems crazy, but this will tenderize the meat, as all of the acid in the onions go right to work. Note: if you're making chicken kebab, you'll only want to marinate for 30 to 60 minutes.)

As for the two remaining piles: throw away the gristle. Grind up the extra pieces of meat with some of the fat. (This can be done in a meat grinder or by whizzing it in your food processor.) Mix the ground meat with some diced bell peppers, diced onion, and diced flat-leaf parsley (known as keema). Season with salt and pepper and fry in patties.

Prepare your grill. While the charcoal is getting hot, skewer the marinated meat, leaving the onions and garlic aside.

Then, in a skillet, sauté the onions and garlic with a bit more salt over medium heat for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized. Serve alongside the kebab.

Once the grill is ready, set the skewers over the heat and grill, turning a couple of times to brown each side. Check a couple of pieces and cook to desired doneness, medium in my case.

Let the meat rest for just a couple of minutes, then remove from the skewers and serve. It should be tender, flavorful, caramelized and smoky from the grill, and addicting.

(Another note: I have to admit it's killing me to write this. I've been meaning to get to this post for a while, which means it's been a while since we made this, and just the thought of it is making me want to rush out and make it, even though we just had a delicious carne asada New Year's dinner.)

Bon appetit and Happy New Year!


Anonymous said...

In New Zealand, there are more sheep than people. I'm guessing not too many folks there turn up their noses at grilled lamb. Unless it's from Colorado.

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Down in Oz I can sometimes get a half side of lamb for around $25. Split it up into different meals, freeze it, and you've got lamb for any occasion.

Have you tried kebabs with bacon wrapped around oysters? Very tasty.