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Tranche de gigot
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Tranche de gigot

A fair number of people - even "foodies" - don't much care for lamb. For some, it's the thought of fuzzy, cute little lambies frolicking in a meadow that turns carnivores into temporary vegetarians. Others simply find lamb's robust flavor gamey and unpleasant.

But for the open-minded meat-eater willing to suppress those instincts, it is difficult to imagine a better partner than lamb for the world's great red wines.

Whether you're enjoying Bordeaux or Burgundy (or the New World equivalents), a red Rhone or Australian Shiraz or a fine Italian red, a slice of lamb on your dinner plate makes a marriage that enhances the enjoyment of both the food and the wine. And if the wine is young and harshly tannic, rare lamb is the antidote of choice to bring it around.

So today let's take a look at lamb-leg steak, which I have sneakily headlined in French to avoid alarming the lamb-wary. Sliced crosswise from the lamb leg - a cut that most of us know best as a holiday menu item, roasted whole - the steak (or tranche) is a neat oval slice with a small circle of bone near the center and surprisingly little fat or waste.

As sold in this area, these steaks are usually about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick and weigh 10 or 12 ounces. Because it is not considered as "desirable" a cut as lamb chops, it sells for a fraction of the price. I generally expect to pay $4 or so for a good-size steak, enough for a healthy dinner for two or a hearty course for one. (Note, however, that prices may vary widely, depending on whether lamb and sheep farming is commonplace where you live.)

Best of all, it packs a lot of flavor, and in contrast with the long roasting required for a whole leg, the lamb steak can come from the refrigerator to the plate in just a few moments. Note well, however, that it toughens into leather (flavorful leather, but still ... ) if you pan-sear or grill it past medium-rare. So if you're not happy with pink and juicy lamb, this cut is better braised for an hour than grilled to well-done.

Even when rare, don't expect butter-tenderness of this steak. You will find it more "chewy" than the pricey loin chop or rack of lamb. But it more than makes up for that with flavor, and it takes deliciously to a quick marinade, as in today's recipe. This procedure is easily variable to meet your tastes or what's in the pantry. I've included a few alternate ideas in the ingredients list to help get your imagination started.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 lamb leg steak (tranche de gigot), or, as noted, two steaks if you have hearty appetites.
Salt
Pepper
2 good-size sprigs fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs of your choice - thyme or oregano would be good)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed to release their juices
1 cup dry white wine (red works fine, too. Or pink.)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) butter
1/4 teaspoon Asian "five spice" (or cumin, or curry powder, or nutmeg, or ground cinnamon, or just about any spice you like)

PROCEDURE:

1. Put the rosemary (or other herb) and two of the smashed garlic cloves in a bowl just large enough to hold the lamb steak(s). Put in the lamb, sprinkle to taste with the salt and pepper, and pour in enough wine to cover. Leave to marinate for 30 to 60 minutes.

2. Remove the lamb from the marinade, pat it dry, and discard the marinade. Choose a heavy skillet (I like black iron) or nonstick if you prefer, and put in the remaining garlic clove and just enough olive oil to coat the surface. Place over high heat until the oil is aromatic and the garlic starting to sizzle, then put in the lamb. Leave it on one side without moving it for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes - no longer - then turn and sear the other side. Four to 5 minutes total should be plenty. Take care not to let it cook past medium-rare.

3. Put the lamb steaks on a warmed serving plate and set them aside while you make a lightning-fast sauce: Reduce heat under the skillet to medium and add the butter to the pan juices. Put in the spice of your choice and swirl quickly until the butter, juices and spice mix. Put the steaks back into the pan, turn once or twice until coated with the sauce, and serve. All that's needed to make this a meal is a quick salad or green vegetable, and crusty bread or other starch course.

WINE MATCH: As noted, any dry red wine is great with lamb, but the herbs and spices in this dish made me think of something peppery and aromatic - a Rhone, Provence or Languedoc red or maybe an Aglianico-based red from Southern Italy or a Rioja from Spain. We chose a good-value Northern Rhone Syrah, E. Guigal 2000 Crozes-Hermitage, and were not disappointed.

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Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Mushroom Risorzotto (Oct. 3)
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Thursday, Oct. 10, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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