Monday, February 27, 2012

Cooking Lamb with Chef Kerry Heffernan at Sur La Table

Just days before I left New York for my California vacation I was lucky enough to finally get into the brand new Sur La Table kitchen on West 57th Street. Even better than being in the kitchen was the occasion- a celebration of American Lamb with South Gate Restaurant's executive chef Kerry Heffernan. As you may remember from Lamb Jam 2011, I depend on the American Lamb Board for my constant sheep-a-licious education. Chef Kerry's class was yet another lesson for me on my way to becoming a master of lamb. My fellow classmates and I were not only fed dishes using lamb in extremely fresh ways, we also had the shepherdess, Lisa Webster, in the house to tell us more about the animal we were eating. 

Chef Kerry Heffernan
All of the lamb was provided by Lisa's farm, North Star Sheep Farm, in Windham, Maine. Chef Kerry broke down whole sides of lamb that had been harvested Thursday and delivered to Sur La Table on Monday for use in our Wednesday night class. Lisa told us the animal is never cut within forty-eight hours of being harvested. She noted that unlike beef, lamb doesn't taste better with aging. Her philosophy for those shopping at the market for lamb is that if it looks good, it is good. I learned that with lamb comes quite a bit of terroir, that is to say there are changes in the meat depending on where it is from. Lisa and her husband Phil will graze their sheep on grass and finish them on barley and oats, since these grains easily grow in Maine. Finishing on grain is what maintains the color of the meat- hence why if it looks good, it is good and was well tended. If you are completely sold on Lisa's lamb and you live in the Maine/Boston area just check out your local Whole Foods and ask for meat from North Star Sheep Farm. Lisa also welcomes visitors to the farm.
Lamb Loins

After learning about the product, it was time to get cooking. Just a note, Sur La Table classes are mostly hands-on, however because of Chef Kerry's renown the class was taught as a demonstration without class participation. I was personally happy to sit back and watch as three delicious courses were prepared and served to me while  I sat back learning new techniques and about new ingredients along the way.

Marinated Lamb Loin Chops with Grapefruit
and Rutabaga Gratin

The first dish was an adorable t-bone lamb steak (yes, lamb is cute when its alive and cute on the plate!). Chef Kerry and his crew marinated the loin chops with grapefruit zest, thyme, garlic and olive oil overnight. The t-bones were seared in a grill pan and served with a pistou of parsley, marjoram, basil, garlic, grapefruit and olive oil in a dark green swipe across the plate. A sweet, creamy stack of rutabaga gratin complimented the chew of the tender lamb pieces and everything was brightened by the verdure of the sauce. The plate was finished with a little reduced veal stock and a sauteed scallion. I'm not sure I'd ever eaten such a simply flavored and enticing piece of lamb. At Lamb Jam I enjoyed some real winners, certainly, but this was different. The marinade infused the meat with subtle flavor and there was not a hint of gaminess in the meat itself. Also, rutabagas are highly underrated. It is one of those ugly, winter vegetables that is easily over looked- but when paid a little attention is more intriguing than our well loved potato. Chef Kerry likes to serve rutabaga puree beside mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving and it is always the rutabaga his family and friends go to for seconds. It gets sweet and has a clean bite without being fibrous or grainy when cooked. Try it out- remember to cut off the (likely) waxed outer layer. 

Saute of Lamb Leg, Lime, Dried Chili and Scallion
Next up was a very Thai take on cooking lamb. Chef Kerry created a mix of flavors and textures that was as welcome on a snowy winter evening in Manhattan as it would be at the height of a sweltering summer in Bangkok. The combination of  lemongrass infused veal stock, sauteed medallions 
of lamb and Thai flavors of chili, lime, soy sauce, mint and Thai basil took my taste buds on a dizzying spin where they were left asking themselves: "Was that really lamb?". Lamb and lime together was its own surprise, but seeing tender pieces of lamb tossed in this bowl of bold, fresh flavors was enlightening. Lamb doesn't have to be heavy or served with equally weighty sides. It can embody the squeeze of a wedge of citrus, bouncing perkily on your tongue. Thank goodness this class came with a recipe booklet.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Juniper, Rosemary and Orange
with Farro and Parsnips
We completed the evening with a final revelation, this time in a grain, not a lamb. Our final dish was composed of braised lamb shank sauced with a thick glaze of pomegranate molasses, veal stock and notes of juniper berry, rosemary, orange and red wine, with a few oblique-cut parsnips and the crowning jewel of the evening: farro. Yes, of course the lamb shank was tender and full of slippery flavors from the reducded braising liquid- but this farro exemplified the chew of a perfect oatmeal cookie with the warm, toasty nuttiness of a refined browned butter. Farro!- who knew. Chef Joel, the Sur La Table in-house chef, said it was the best farro he had ever had. The day I returned from California I picked up a bag at Fairway. I'm nervous about preparing it at home, having experienced a prime example of this grains capabilities, but I will try my best.

As you can tell, even though this class was not hands on, I learned plenty of things. New techniques, interesting flavor profiles and I was able to try ingredients for the first time that I hope to now add to my pantry. Lisa Webster's carefully raised lamb and Chef Kerry Heffernan's cooking creativity came together as a small masterpiece on a meaty, American canvas. I would certainly eat Chef Kerry's food again (and hopefully will at South Gate). Next time I'm in Whole Foods I will ask about North Star Sheep Farm's meat. And lastly, I would recommend attending classes at Sur La Table's stunning, brand new kitchen on W. 57th Street. 
Lisa Webster, myself, Chef Kerry Heffernan
Check out more photos from the evening on The Culinary Librarian Facebook Page:
Chef Kerry Heffernan Lamb Cooking Class 2/8/2012
Follow Chef Kerry: @kheffernan212
Follow The American Lamb Board: @FANofLAMB
Follow Sur La Table: @Sur_La_Table
Visit North Star Sheep Farm:


Anonymous said...

This post is very timely as St. Patrick's day is now just around the corner! Lots of ways to serve lamb (not corned beef!) on the holiday!

Sydney Jones said...

What a great experience :) I love learning new things about the kitchen!! Great and informative post :)

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