The rock and roll never stops at The Meat Hook, and neither does creative butchery. The shop’s commitment to working only with whole, pastured animals sourced from local farms, and to find seriously tasty applications for every last part of those animals, creates the need for experimentation at times. Yeah, they’ve got everything from your dry-aged tenderloin on down to ground, but if you need marinated beef hearts, white pudding, or smoked veal and boar sausage, they’ve got that too. One example of improvised success? Their lamb bacon, made with the cured, smoked, rolled and sliced belly of lamb that’s not technically lamb…
James Lum, one of the butchers, explains:
All right James, what’s good today?
Well this right here is our house-made lamb bacon, and we think it’s pretty good. We’re getting the lamb from Lancaster County. We’ve worked for a long time to a find a local source for good, consistent, affordable lamb. It’s not easy. Lately we’ve been getting one whole lamb from Lancaster every week.
Once we had the source, there was a little bit of a struggle to figure out what to do with the bellies. We use the whole animal, but lamb bellies were a challenge. They’re super-fatty. We tried some things, but nothing really worked at first. We wanted to make bacon out of them, but the bellies are usually really thin – too thin to make bacon. We tried curing and and smoking them but they were so thin they’d kind of just wrinkle up into nothing.
So a few months ago we decided to try to do the lamb bacon in the same way you’d do pancetta. We cured a belly for five or six days, then rolled it up and tied it, let it cure for a little longer, and smoked it overnight. And it started came out really nice. We perfected it pretty quickly once we discovered the trick of rolling it, and we’re really happy with it now. Not only does it slice really nicely and cook really nicely, but it looks pretty too. [laughter.]
What does it taste like? Bacon? Lamb? Both?
We use the same cure for this bacon that we do for our house bacon, so it’s got that same mild salty sweetness as our regular bacon. But it does have a very strong lamb flavor. If you don’t like lamb, you’re probably not going to like the lamb bacon, but if you do like lamb, you’re going to love it. It’s got everything you love about bacon, with the addition of that nice gamey lamb flavor.
What do you like to do with it?
It’s really easy. You do it the same way you’d cook regular bacon. I usually cook the lamb bacon a little bit longer than pork bacon to crisp it up since it’s so fatty. It’s really awesome on BLTs, just to kind of switch things up a little. I love it for breakfast, with eggs, or on a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. You can also obviously cook with it the same way you’d use any other bacon, to render it down and get that great bacony lamb flavor in whatever it is you’re making.
It is really rich, so you might not want to eat as much of it as you might with pork bacon. But it’s got pretty great flavor.
How does working with pastured lamb affect the flavor or quality of the meat?
You know, I should say that the lamb we get is technically not lamb. We get them when they’re a few months older, and that gives the meat a stronger, nicer flavor. It’s not as mild as the really young lamb meat you typically get, and that deeper flavor translates into the bacon.
In terms of the animals being pastured? It definitely makes a difference. Pastured animals typically have a stronger flavor, because the animals are out there moving around all day eating grass, and in doing that they’re developing muscle and getting exercise, which means denser, richer, more intensely flavorful meat. The same goes for any animal – beef, pork, anything. Pastured animals just about always have stronger flavor, better flavor, because they’re on the fields, moving around and eating grass all day. It just adds up to a better quality of meat.
So how did you end up doing this?
A friend of mine who’s also coincidentally my sister’s boyfriend used to work here. About two years ago, he got me a job washing dishes two days a week. I just moved up little by little and now I’m a butcher. I love it. This place is never boring. [laughter.]
The Meat Hook is located at 100 Frost Street, between Manhattan and Leonard, in Williamsburg.
Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager. All rights reserved.