Ask Peter: Lamb back-straps
We absolutely adore lamb backstrap but I always seem to overcook it. I usually flash fry in a frying pan for 2 minutes per side, then transfer the pan into the oven (heated to 180C) for a further 10 minutes. After 5 minutes of resting under tin foil it is still reasonably pink on the inside, but within minutes of slicing it the meat has turned grey. Maybe it's because I'm transferring it into the oven in the pan — should I change dishes for this step? Cheers, Anne.
To be honest I wasn’t familiar with the term backstrap, but now that I realise it is a skinless lamb loin. You’re simply overcooking it. All up you’re cooking it for 14 minutes, yet it’s a very tender cut of lamb that needs much less. You don’t need to cook it in the oven at all so unless you need the oven on for something else like roast veges, berry crumble or similar, just cook it on the hob.
With summer approaching (apparently — I am yet to see signs of it here in Auckland) the barbecue is probably the preferred method, but for a quick meal just heat a heavy-based pan or skillet on the hob. If you have something like a heavy cast iron casserole, then these are also great to cook meat in as the heat is evenly distributed and you can put the lid on and turn them into a Dutch oven.
Bring the lamb to room temperature. All meat (and thick pieces of fish) cooks best when not straight from the fridge. If the internal core temperature is too cool, it will slow down the cooking process so you’ll need to cook it for longer, which causes the outside to dry out and possibly burn.
Rub a little olive oil over the lamb and lightly season with salt. You can grind pepper on it, but pepper can burn if cooked over a high heat. Place the lamb on the heat source (barbecue grill, skillet etc,) and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Turn over and cook a further 2 minutes. At this point it will still be quite rare in the middle.
But transfer it to a warm plate and cover loosely with another inverted plate, bowl or foil, rest in a warm place for 5 minutes and it will be medium rare. The resting means the blood won’t ooze out when sliced and also the heat inside the lamb will become evenly distributed. If you like your lamb cooked more, then by all means cook it more to begin with.
I’ve also had someone query the fact I said to rest a roast turkey for 30-45 minutes as they felt the bird would go cold. When resting all meats you do need to rest them somewhere warm — like above the stove, at the back of the stove, in a plate warmer (set warm, not hot) or in summer on a bench next to the oven or on the table next to the barbecue. Cover something large like a turkey with foil, then a small towel, then more foil. If you don’t have a spare towel, use newspaper. The towel, and newspaper, work as insulation, and keep the heat trapped in the meat as much as it can be. By resting, you end up with a much juicier turkey (this also applies to chicken, duck and goose).
If you think about it, those rotisserie chickens you buy in supermarkets are always incredibly juicy and they are a good example of something being stored in a foil bag, resting, and not becoming cold at all by the time you get them home. The key, however, is tomake sure your fowl is fully cooked before you take it from the oven. The best place to check is at the thigh — this is the thickest part of the bird and so long as the juices run clear when you poke a knife in, you’ll be fine.
The other advantage of resting such a big bird is that you have a good half hour or more in which to finish the salads and vege prep and quickly down a glass of chardonnay before you have to serve your mates!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.
A selection of recipes using lamb to try out