Whose meat reigns supreme? We put the question to two passionate chefs.
“You know ham kicks lamb’s butt,” said Leisa Dent, co-owner and chef of L.L. Dent, the Southern-style restaurant in Carle Place, N,Y. “And I don’t care how much mint jelly you put on that thing.” Dent regularly cooks fresh ham (i.e., pork) and smoked ham.
“Both are better than lamb,” she declared.
For Easter lunch, Dent traditionally prepares a smoked ham that she glazes with, among other ingredients, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
A whole ham (that is, the entire hind leg of the pig) easily feeds 20 to 30 people. For a smaller gathering, Dent cooks the “shank” half, which serves 10 to 12.
Because a smoked ham has already been cooked, “cooking” it at home involves little more than putting it in the oven, brushing on the glaze and getting it hot. Dent makes it fancy by scoring the top and inserting cloves into the resulting diamond pattern.
Ninety minutes later, the ham comes out of the oven fragrant, succulent of flesh and crisp of skin.
And ham is the Easter gift that keeps on giving. “The leftovers are good, hot or cold,” she said. “Ham and eggs for breakfast the next morning, ham sandwiches for lunch. And then I use the bone for pea soup.”
“For Greeks there is no question,” said Peter Spyropoulos, executive chef of Limani, the Greek seafood restaurant in Roslyn. “Lamb is all we eat. Lamb. Lamb. Lamb.”
In fact the traditional Easter meal, consumed at midnight after Easter Mass, starts with magiritsa, a soup made from lamb innards. Next up: kokoretsi, skewered lamb innards wrapped with fat and grilled. Finally, spit-roasted baby lamb.
For American homes, roast leg of Lamb
is easier to handle, and Spyropoulos recommends a boneless leg, which is a cinch to carve. He seasons his lamb with the Greek trinity of garlic, oregano and lemon — 2 cups of lemon juice to cut the richness of the lamb — but he also adds rosemary and thyme (if his mother isn’t around).
As for leftovers, Spyropoulos insists that “anything you can do with ham you can do with lamb.” He loves a sandwich made with thinly sliced lamb and Gulden’s mustard on white bread.
Finally, Lamb has a profound connection to the Easter story that ham just can’t touch. “At Mass,” Spyropoulos said, “the Greek Orthodox priest is always talking about lamb as a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice.”
No one ever talks about “the ham of God.”
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