Is lamb the unofficial meat of Australia? If you believe the marketing spin, there's nothing more 'Strayan than throwing a couple of chops on the barbecue, especially on 26 January.
At Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney, we're lucky to have a roaring woodfire grill at our disposal – it gives our lamb cutlets a beautiful char on the outside, and that heady wood-smoke that penetrates the flesh gives it a wonderful flavour.
For the home cook, there are a few simple guiding principles to follow to let your lamb shine.
It all starts with the meat
It's so important to know where the lamb comes from and what it's been fed. Specialty retail butchers are harder and harder to come by, but it's worth tracking down a good one who can tell you all about the provenance of the lamb.
Chops or cutlets?
The great debate is whether to go with lamb chops or cutlets. Chops are ideal for roasting, but they don't have a layer of fat around the meat to protect the flesh; they're more difficult to cook and the presentation isn't as uniform as cutlets.
Cutlets are individual steaks taken from the lamb's ribs. The cutlets are a popular cut of choice; they're super quick to cook and it's easy to achieve perfectly crisp skin and melt-in-your-mouth flesh. Plus, they look beautiful on the plate.
How to cook and serve lamb
I like to bring the lamb to room temperature before cooking – this means it spends less time heating up on the grill, and more time actually cooking.
Whatever you do, don't cook it past medium-rare. Use a meat thermometer if you must – the centre of the lamb shouldn't be any more than 70°C. My preferred level of done-ness is medium-rare, which really lets the texture and flavour of the lamb sing.
If you're grilling your cutlets, rotate them 90 degrees halfway through cooking on each side to achieve those lovely criss-cross grill marks.
Resting your lamb – or any grilled red meat for that matter – is non-negotiable. Set it aside after cooking for 10-15 minutes, uncovered, to allow the juices to distribute evenly through the meat and to achieve maximum tenderness.
In order to appreciate the full, unadulterated flavour of lamb cutlets, they're best prepared without a marinade. I like to season each side of the cutlet with a bit of salt and olive oil before popping it on the grill, and serve it with something acidic on the side – a wedge of lemon perhaps, or some classic mint jelly. My new-found love? Garlic yoghurt. The combined acidity of the garlic and yoghurt really cuts through the fattiness of the chops and rounds out the flavour of the dish.