“Guatemalans don’t eat lamb” was my initial reaction when I
first read the invitation to participate in the first American Lamb Pro-Am,
being put on by BostonChefs.com and the American Lamb Board. This challenge
pitted around 10 Boston area food bloggers against each other to come up with a
lamb recipe using American raised lamb. All the posts would then be put up for
voting having the four most popular move on to the next round where at a full
blown event those for lucky bloggers would cook their dish with a prominent
Boston chef to be voted on yet again. I thought about this whole process for a
bit, and decided to do it! This could be fun. It is true that lamb is not a
popular meat in Guatemala, but I could do a “Guatemalan style” dish. This would
be a great challenge for me to see what I have learned over the past few years
about the Guatemalan cuisine, to learn about lamb which I never cook with and
to test my culinary creativity.
After emailing my acceptance my mind immediately began to
whirl out of control with ideas for my dish. Obviously I needed to keep it
simple since I only had a few days from when we were given our leg of lamb
(boneless, thank goodness) to when we had to have our recipes posted. Tacos! I
could marinate the lamb carne asada style, grill it and top it
with……hmmmmm……what could I top it with? This is where the dish started to to
get complex with ideas on how to wow and shock people. I have curtido blanco (a popular topping for pupusas) in
the refrigerator which would be a nice contrast between the soft juicy lamb and
the crunch of the pickled cabbage mixture. So I had lamb and curtido. Now I
needed some creaminess. Crema was the answer! But I couldn’t use plain crema. I
needed to, as Emeril Lagasse says “kick it up a notch!” So I decided to make a
guajillo chile and lime crema-some spicy creaminess. How about some chopped
radish for some contrasting color, crunch and a bite of spice? Sounded pretty
good. Off to the kitchen I went to make
this hopefully winning dish.
Well, it didn’t knock my socks off. All the components were
good on their own, but together they just didn’t work. The lamb got lost and
the lamb was supposed to be the star. On its own the lamb was amazingly
delicious considering it was my first attempt at marinating and cooking it. But
this was a cooking challenge and having met my fellow contestants when I picked
up the lamb, I knew this dish was not a winner. I was up against some pretty
heavy hitters in the Boston cooking/food writing scene.
So since Version A did not work I needed a Version B real
quick. There was no time to waste. My recipe needs to be posted by 5pm Friday
and today was Wednesday. Obviously the lamb needs to be the star, but how to
create a delicious taco that let the lamb do this without being outshone by its
supporting cast members? Thinking back to a roasted pork taco that I am still
dreaming about that Carlos and I had eaten at An Urban Grape pop up dinner, I
decide to take inspiration from it and go with a mango salsa. The sweetness of
the mangos will enhance the roasted lamb the sweetness of the American lamb. So
a mango salsa with radishes, fresh mint (is mint a lamb cliché?) and lime juice
was placed on top of the thinly sliced pieces of marinated and grilled lamb.
The taco looked visually amazing and good enough to eat, but was missing that
final finishing touch. How about some white to make all the other colors pop. Having
some queso fresco in the refrigerator I decided to crumble some on top. The
white cheese looked great against the orange of the mango, plus the haphazard
shapes of the crumbled cheese played well against the uniform cubes of mango.
Eureka! I had my dish!
The weather the past couple of days has not been conducive
to grilling outdoors. The first time I attempted this recipe I had to grill
indoors, although good, does not have the same flavor as grilling on a real
grill outdoors. This morning, wanting to try the final dish one last time with
the lamb grilled outdoors to get the great flavor and some “action” photos, I
proceeded to fire up the grill and get my lamb ready. As soon as I stepped out
the door to throw the lamb on the grill, it started to rain lightly. But I didn’t
let it deter me. The lamb was grilling nicely, even in the rain. When it was time
to check the temperature of the lamb, of course was the time when the clouds
decided to unleash buckets of rain. At this point there was no turning back, so
out to the grill I went with a thermometer and thongs in one hand and an
umbrella in the other. Nestling the umbrella in my armpit I successfully
checked the lamb’s temperature. Luckily it was done and I could retreat back
inside to let the lamb rest before slicing it for its close-up. This dish does
have Guatemala written all over it. The lamb on the outdoor grill has charred
bits of fat and meat which tastes so great and resembles carne asada, but is
still rare to medium rare on the inside like lamb should be. The mango salsa is
made up of ingredients that are wildly popular in Guatemala, and of course the
queso fresco is practically a food group in Guatemalan cuisine. Dish B was a
success meeting all my requirements!
Until this challenge dropped in my lap I was intimidated by
the thought of cooking lamb, like many people it seems. That is one of the
reasons I went the lamb taco route. It brings lamb down to what is basically a
street food. You can marinate the lamb overnight, make the salsa the day
before, and then all you have to do is throw the lamb on the grill about 30
minutes before you want to eat. No stuffy rack of lamb. No bone in lamb chops
to fight with. This is lamb you eat with your hands! This is lamb by the
people, for the people and the people should be eating American lamb! It is
fresher, the flavor is amazing and you’re supporting our economy.
Needless to say after braving the weather of the past few
days and my great dish I deserve to win one of the coveted four spots at the
actual American Lamb Pro-Am event being held in a few weeks. You can vote for this dish by visiting American Lamb Pro-Am
so that I can cook my dish side by side with a Boston area chef
and show people what Guatemalan food or inspired food is all about. Voting closes at 5pm on Friday October 21.
Recipe: Guatemalan Insoired Lamb Tacos
Summary: The flavors of Guatemala in American raised lamb.
- 10-12 limes at room temperature
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 teaspoons adobo, Goya brand recommended
- 5 large sprigs of mint, crushed in your hands
- 2 guajillo chiles torn up into large pieces
- 1 ½ pounds of 1 inch thick boneless leg of lamb, cleaned of excess fat and silverskin
- 1 ripe mango (should give a little when gently squeezed), peeled, pitted and diced large
- 5 radishes, washed and diced
- 1/3 cup lightly packed mint, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 corn tortillas
- Cabbage thinly shredded
- Queso fresco (fresh cheese), Quesos La Ricura brand recommended
- Twelve to twenty four hours before eating combine one cup of lime juice, the vegetable oil, adobo, mint and guajillo chiles in a large bowl and stir well. Place lamb in the same bowl, covering lamb in the marinade. Cover and store in the refrigerator.
- Combine mango, radishes, mint, juice of one or two limes and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
- Remove your lamb for the refrigerator one hour before grilling. Preheat grill on high for about 10 minutes. Place lamb on the hot grill and cook for 7-8 minutes per side or until an instant read thermometer reaches 120 degrees for medium rare. The meat will continue to cook after being removed from the grill (internal temperature will go up about another 10 degrees). Remove meat to a plate and cover with foil and let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes.
- While the lamb is resting heat your corn tortillas. The best way is if you have a gas stove, turn the flame of a burner on medium and place a tortilla right over the flame and toast 2 or 3 minutes on each side until it starts to brown, repeat until all tortillas are done, keeping them wrapped in a towel to stay warm. Alternately you can do the same thing on the grill at the same time you are cooking the lamb or wrap in foil and warm in the oven.
- To assemble the tortillas: slice the lamb in ¼ inch thick slices against the grain. Place a warm tortilla on a plate, nestle some of the shredded cabbage in the middle and lay two lamb slices on top. Spread some of the mango salsa on top of the lamb and then crumble some of the queso fresco on top of that. Roll up and lose yourself in lamb heaven!
Preparation time: 1 hour(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
My rating 5 stars: ★★★★★ 1 review(s)