Don't Skip This Step To Make Lamb Less Gamey

In the red meat category, lamb is always a bit of a wild card. Though not as quotidian as beef or pork, it is highly versatile, shining in everything from lamb shanks with fig and rosemary, to marinated lamb with coriander, fennel, and mint, to Persian saffron lamb chops. Lamb is known for its distinct flavor, which is rich and umami-laden, but depending on its country of origin, the taste of lamb can skew towards gamey.

Now, though gamey meats have their place and are beloved by many, depending on your personal tastes or the recipe you have on hand, you might not want your lamb to taste like you just hauled it off the forest floor. Luckily, giving your lamb chops a short soak in a salt and vinegar solution is an easy way to reduce some of that gamey flavor. Simply salt your lamb (heavily), then add it to a bowl filled with cold water and add a cup of distilled white vinegar. In ten minutes or so, your lamb will be ready to rinse and cook.

Salt and vinegar

The gaminess in lamb and other wild meats comes from their lifestyle, which is typically more active than that of other domesticated animals. Game meats tend to have stronger muscles and less fat, but it's the fat that stores that funky flavor and smell. So if your goal is to make your lamb chops less gamey, what you want to do is get rid of some of the fat. You can trim it, of course, but you'll also want to break it down with some kind of acid. This is where the vinegar comes in.

The other component you want to watch out for is the blood stored in the lamb tissue. The salt in the soaking solution will help remove blood from the meat, which also contributes to some of lamb's strong smell and taste. (As an alternative to brining, you can also salt your meat directly and let it rest for half an hour before rinsing and cooking.)

Other tips for gamey lamb

You can also marinate your lamb in milk or yogurt overnight to get rid of the gaminess in the meat. Yogurt in particular is commonly used for lamb in Greek and Indian cuisines, for dishes like Tandoori lamb. Yogurt is acidic, so, like vinegar, it can break down the gamey fat in the lamb.

Some also recommend rinsing the individual pieces of your lamb before soaking them. Now, in most circumstances, washing your meat before cooking isn't advised, as it can increase the chances of cross-contamination (per The USDA). So if you do wash your lamb, be sure to properly sanitize your sink and the surrounding area afterward.

If you really want to cut down on the gaminess, you could also buy ground lamb instead of lamb chops, which tend to be less gamey. But lamb chops or a rack of lamb are still going to have less fat (and thus, less intense flavor) than cuts like lamb shoulder or shank. So before buying your lamb, consider the level of flavor you want, and the amount of work you're willing to put in for some sweet, tender lamb.