"Ham vs. lamb" may not rise to the level of theological debate, but when it comes to Easter dinner, the issue can divide celebrants into zealous partisan camps.
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."
Ham with Jack Daniel's glaze
The ham will cook quicker and more evenly if it's at room temperature. Take it out of the refrigerator up to 2 hours before cooking. You also can use this glaze on a spiral-cut ham: Just follow the cooking instructions on the package.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups Jack Daniel's (or other bourbon)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
1 shank-end cooked ham (7 to 9 pounds)
1. Combine sugar, Jack Daniel's, vinegar and orange juice concentrate in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Score the top of the ham in a diamond pattern, making cuts 1/2 inch deep and an inch apart. In the middle of each diamond, insert a clove. Place ham in a roasting pan and cook until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees, about 11/2 hours. During the last half hour of cooking, baste the ham with the glaze every 10 minutes or so, reserving some of the glaze.
3. Let ham rest at least 30 minutes before serving. Brush with reserved glaze, then slice. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Roast boneless leg of lamb
A boneless leg of lamb will come rolled and tied by the butcher. You'll need to untie and unroll it to season the interior, and you'll need some butcher's twine (ask the butcher for some) to tie it back up.
1 boneless leg of lamb, 6 to 8 pounds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Greek)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (10 to 12 lemons)
3 cups dry white wine
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Untie lamb, and spread it out on a work surface and note how it was rolled, i.e., which edge was inside, which was outside. Smear garlic into surface, then sprinkle on salt, pepper and dried herbs. Roll lamb back up and tie with butcher's twine. Roll does not have to be tight or neat.
2. Place on a rack in a roasting pan. Pour the lemon juice, wine, 2 cups water and, finally, the olive oil over the lamb. Cover loosely with foil and cook for 21/2 hours, basting occasionally with pan juices. Remove foil and cook 30 minutes longer. Let rest at least 30 minutes, then slice and serve with pan juices. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Here is a side dish to go with each
Braised cabbage (for the ham)
The trick to this simple side dish is to not overcook the cabbage.
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium head cabbage, diced
1 (8-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1. In a large, wide saucepan (with a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat, saute onion and pepper in oil until they are translucent; they should not brown.
2. Add cabbage, tomatoes and red pepper. If there isn't enough liquid in the pan so that about half the contents are submerged, add a few spoonfuls of water. Turn up heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When liquid boils, cover pan and set aside for at least 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Lemon potatoes (for the lamb)
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (10-12 lemons)
3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Greek)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)10 baking potatoes
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a roasting pan, combine all ingredients except potatoes with 1 cup water. Whisk to combine.
3. Add potatoes and cook for 1 hour, until potatoes are just tender.
4. Drain off liquid and roast potatoes for 45 minutes longer, until they are brown in spots.
5. Place potatoes on a serving dish. Heat drained-off liquid and pour over potatoes. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Visit Newsday at http://www.newsday.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.