I love lamb, in every way and every cut. But I don't eat it very often because of the same thing that tends to make it so very delicious — its fattiness.
Still, all bets are off during Easter, when I happily bow to tradition. In Easters past, I've roasted a whole leg of lamb or part of a leg, and prepared it in a Mediterranean fashion. Trouble is, there's always so much left over. So this year I'm going with smaller lamb steaks that are cut from the leg, one of the leanest cuts of lamb (especially if you also trim away any fat).
In fact, the leg is so lean you have to figure out how to replace the flavour and moisture that goes missing when you kiss the fat goodbye. In this recipe, that is accomplished with a rosemary-garlic rub with added salt. When you rub a piece of protein with salt and let it sit, the salt eventually makes the meat juicier. It works like a brine, minus the liquid.
Having chosen a lean cut of meat, I also wanted a lean way to cook it. Grilling fit the bill. The problem is that grills are banned here in New York City. And elsewhere in the country, many people still haven't hauled their grills out of storage for the season yet.
The solution is a grill pan. In my opinion, every home should have one. Grilling done properly — that is, as long as you don't incinerate the ingredient in question — is a healthy way to coax flavour out of meats and vegetables, not least because it requires very little fat.
Grilled marinated lamb all by itself is pretty darn tasty, but I wanted to gild the lily a bit. After all, it is Easter. Since I already was giving the lamb the Mediterranean treatment with a rosemary-garlic rub, I thought why not top it with an egg-lemon sauce, a stalwart of the Greek culinary repertoire?
But egg-lemon sauces can be tricky because the sauce is thickened only by the egg. If you don't cook it enough, the sauce won't thicken. If you cook it too much, the eggs scramble. So I stabilized the sauce by adding cornstarch, which makes it creamy and curd-less, and allowed me to keep it hot over low heat without any worries.
I finished the sauce with chopped baby artichokes since artichokes and lemon are such a happy pair. I like frozen artichokes because unlike the canned or bottled varieties, there's no salt or oil added to them. Then I caramelized them under the broiler for a few minutes to concentrate their flavour. Of course, if you have the time and inclination to prep and cook fresh baby artichokes, please go ahead. You can poach them in acidulated water until tender, then add them to the sauce.
How to serve this dish? One of our problems these days is what is delicately referred to as portion control. Less delicately, we eat too much. My strategy is to present protein on a plate so that it looks plentiful, even though the portion isn't huge. In this case, 4 ounces of sliced steak, fanned out a bit, looks like more than 4 ounces of an unsliced steak.
Just be sure to let the steaks rest before you slice them so that they're nice and juicy. And remember to add the juice from the plate with the resting lamb to the sauce, which will marry the two. See for yourself; it's a happy marriage. Every bite's a winner.
GRILLED LAMB STEAKS WITH ARTICHOKE LEMON SAUCE
Start to finish: 1 hour 40 minutes (20 minutes active)
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound lamb steaks cut from the leg (preferably about 3/4-inch thick)
1 cup artichoke hearts, patted dry and chopped (frozen is best)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Set aside 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary. In a wide, shallow bowl combine the remaining rosemary, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the lamb and coat it well on all sides with the herb mixture. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
Set an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler heating element. Heat the oven to broil.
In a small bowl, toss the artichokes with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the artichokes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning them several times, until they are golden around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the broiler and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the chicken broth until it is simmering. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, reserved teaspoon of rosemary and the cornstarch. Add a little of the chicken stock to the mixture in a stream, whisking. Add the egg mixture back to the chicken stock and cook for 1 minute, or until the sauce starts to bubble. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the artichokes. Keep warm over low heat.
Heat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Wipe off most of the garlic herb mixture from the lamb and spray the meat with olive oil cooking spray. Add the lamb to the grill pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, turning once, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the lamb to a plate, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice the lamb against the grain into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Add the lamb juices from the plate to the artichoke lemon sauce. Divide the sliced lamb between 4 serving plates and spoon sauce over each plate.
Nutrition information per serving: 350 calories; 200 calories from fat (57 per cent of total calories); 22 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 25g protein; 980 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."