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Get happy at grocer’s local lamb sale

Heedless of who might be watching, I did a little happy dance in the meat section of Sherm’s Food 4 Less.

Such joy was sparked by sign advertising the annual 4-H/FFA Spring Lamb Sale, which started Thursday. I’ve written about this event over the years, both in my blog and as former editor of the newspaper’s weekly food section, A la Carte. But in the years since I’ve started brokering the advance purchase of a whole lamb from a local Future Farmers of America member, the sale has fallen off my radar.

This was the first in several years, however, that I didn’t have a whole animal earmarked with my name from the recent Spring Fair. And consequently, my freezer reserves of meat were running very low — with the entire summer and cold season ahead before I could arrange to procure another animal. Sherm’s sale provided the opportunity to fill the freezer and claim a few cuts that I ordinarily wouldn’t get.

I snapped up packages of succulent rib chops for the evening’s dinner, plus one for down the road, along with a rib roast that will impress my kids who adore this meat. To that, I added a lamb breast, which can be prepared much like a beef brisket, slow-cooked and shredded for tacos or other fillings. And I couldn’t walk away from a whole, bone-in leg of lamb that will bide its time in the freezer until I find a suitable occasion to cook 7 pounds of meat.

All told, just over 14 pounds of meat averaged $9 per pound, less than what I pay for my whole lamb, which includes fees for the on-farm slaughter and cutting and wrapping at the local butcher shop of my choice. The rib chops and roast were the most expensive single cuts.

Plus, I took home two packages of kidneys for a mere 75 cents apiece as a special lunch with freshly baked baguette and sheep’s milk cheese from the farmers market. Impeccably fresh, the kidneys have a slightly livery flavor and toothsome texture that only needs a quick pan-sear with brown butter, garlic, salt, pepper and maybe smoked paprika. Even my slightly squeamish partner had to admit they were pretty good.

Supplies are limited and those in the know typically rush to snap up the best of the sale. If you’re not well-acquainted with lamb, there’s no time like the present. This recipe from the Los Angeles Times is a foolproof method for meltingly tender whole lamb leg or shoulder that’s also fully cooked through.

Tribune News Service photo

French Onion Braised Lamb With Garlic and Rosemary

1 whole piece (3 to 4 pounds) lamb leg or shoulder (see above), trimmed of excess fat

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons everyday olive oil

2 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup white or red wine (or water)

2 heads of garlic, cloves separated, smashed and peeled (about 24 cloves)

3 sprigs rosemary (each 6 inches long)

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup beef or chicken stock (or water)

Flaky sea salt, for finishing

Heat oven to 350 F. Keep a heatproof bowl nearby. Season the lamb liberally with the salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Add the lamb and cook, turning every 6 to 8 minutes or so, until meat is evenly golden brown all over, for about 20 minutes total. Transfer lamb to a plate, and if there is more than 1 tablespoon fat in pot, pour off excess into heatproof bowl.

Return pot to medium heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and season with salt; cook, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pot to keep browned bits from burning, until uniformly soft and translucent, for 16 to 18 minutes. Onions will be browned, but that color will be from browned bits on bottom mixing with their moisture, not from caramelization. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until evaporated, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic cloves and rosemary; cook for about 1 minute more.

Pour in the vinegar and broth; stir, scraping bottom of pot to pick up browned bits. Return lamb to pot and bring liquid to a simmer. Cover pot and place it in preheated oven. Cook for 3 hours; meat should easily fall apart when prodded with a spoon, and onions will have reduced to a sludgy sauce.

Transfer lamb to a serving platter; it will be very tender and may fall apart, so be careful when lifting it. Using tongs, twist and break apart meat into large chunks and remove and discard interior bone. Spoon onions and garlic around meat, sprinkle everything with a hefty pinch of the flaky salt and serve.

Makes 6 servings.