Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Röktlamm (Juniper Smoked Lamb)

Juniper Smoked Lamb

Lamb has a strong taste that works well with piney, menthol-ey herbs like Rosemary, Mint and Juniper. This is an exotic dish with rustic backgrounds that's served in Italy and Scandinavia (strange bedfellows, yes?). It's tremendously easy to prepare if you have a backyard barbeque or smoker, which I have to do since none of the local smokehouses seen to be willing to custom smoke anything but salmon or beef jerky, despite the fact that the meat I brought them was fresh, I had all the ingredients, my money was as green as anyone else's... but I'm not bitter.

This recipe was vaguely inspired by a Swedish dish called Tjälknöl, which I've had in Scandinavia but only recently rediscovered at Anne's Food. Loosely translated, it means something like "frozen chunk" and refers to the cooking method of slow-roasting a completely frozen roast (usually moose) until it's cooked through, and then brining it afterward. I've given this lamb recipe a more traditional pit-bbq treatment but tried to stay true to the flavors and ingredients of wintertime Scandinavia.

This is an Epic Nom. Seriously, it's really really really good.

We usually just raid the neighbor's hedge for juniper, but if you don't have any growing nearby it can be hard to find. Juniper berries can be found at specialty spice shops or brewing stores (juniper is used extensively in herbal liquors like gin). Smoking over pine or evergreen is a fair substitute but keep in mind that sweet woods like hickory, mesquite or fruitwood won't have the same taste.

Why yes, it WAS frosty that day.

Be careful not to overcook the roast. An old wives' tale claims that lamb must be cooked to the point of dental floss but in reality, lamb is red meat like beef and is wonderfully tender and delicious cooked to medium rare.

2-3 Lb Lamb Roast, Boneless
Green juniper boughs, enough to smoke for 1/2 hour


2 quarts water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbl whole allspice berries
4 crumbled bay leaves
2 Tbl juniper berries, fresh or dried
2 Tbl peppercorns

Smash the brine spices in a mortar. Mix with the salt and sugar in a bowl large enough to fit the lamb.

Add enough water to cover the lamb and stir the brine until the sugar/salt is dissolved. Brine the lamb for 12-24 hours, depending on how salty you like it.

Remove from the brine and wrap tightly in aluminum foil.

Roast it in a 250 degree oven for 20 min per pound.

Remove the foil and Smoke over juniper boughs at 250 degrees for approximately 15 minutes per pound, until internal temperature reaches 135-140 degrees.

Remove from the smoker and let set for at least an hour to rest.

Slice and serve.

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