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"Discover the Delicious World of Lamb: From Cuts to Cooking Methods"


A rack of lamb, also known as carré d'agneau (though this term may also refer to other cuts), is a lamb cut that is perpendicular to the spine and includes 16 ribs or chops. In retail, it is commonly sold as a 'single' rack, which means it is sawn longitudinally and includes the 8 ribs on one side only. However, it may also be sold as a "double rack of lamb," with ribs on both sides. Another presentation involves placing two French trimmed racks together with the ribs interlinked, which is often referred to as a "the gaurd of honour".


DON'T BE SHEEPISH ABOUT LAMB

Americans don’t eat much lamb, but they should because it is a great tasting red meat option. Traditional yet versatile, lamb is available in a variety of forms and price points that every chef should include on their menu. While imported lamb is readily available, some of the best lamb can be found by local farmers throughout Canada.




Sheep, Lamb, Mutton – What’s the Difference?

Sheep are domesticated animals and the term is often assigned to the adult animals over one year of age. Lamb indicates baby sheep that are the offspring of ewes (females) and under a year old. The  "lamb" term also applies to the meat of young sheep which can be from the male or the female. Mutton is the meat from mature sheep that are over one year.


Where They are Raised and Sourced

Lamb is the principal meat consumed in regions of North Africa, the Middle East, India, and parts of Europe. The European Union is the largest lamb consumer and number one importer of lamb; mostly brought in from Australia and New Zealand. Mongolia, Turkmenistan, New Zealand, Iceland and Greece are the countries with the highest per capita consumption.

Pasture Grazed Sheep in Germany

Lamb accounts for less than 1% of meat sales in the United States and the average annual consumption is about 1 lb./450 g per person (comparatively Americans eat more than 50 pounds of beef and over 90 pounds of chicken each year). Even still the US doesn't produce enough to meet the consumer demand so imports, primarily from New Zealand and Australia, comprise more than 50% of domestic consumption.

Every state produces lamb with Texas, California, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota producing more than two thirds of domestic sheep. Ethnic minorities are the biggest consumers, including Latinos, but especially Muslims who want their lamb processed according to Halal, an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. Halal slaughter involves minimizing stress to the animal, turning its head towards Mecca, and saying a blessing known as the basmala prayer. The throat is then slit, and the blood drained from the carcass.

Sheep are also raised for milk and cheese production. Greek Feta, French Roquefort, Spanish Manchego and Italian Pecorino Romano are some well-known varieties. The United States is the largest importer of sheep’s milk cheese, accounting for about half of the world’s consumption.  


How Sheep Are Raised and Finished

Most American sheep are  pasture raised and finished on a variety of grains. This give the meat a rich, meaty, or even “beefy” flavor. Many of today’s sheep producers raise their sheep on grass or pasture only.

New Zealand has a long history of raising and exporting sheep, where they were first introduced by British explorer Captain James Cook in 1773. New Zealand lamb are smaller than American, strictly grass-fed, and tend to have a more pronounced, lamb-like “gamey or grassy” flavor.

Australian lamb is grass fed and finished, but some farmers are moving to a practice of grain finishing on feedlots, so the flavor is similar to American lamb. Carcass size is smaller than American lamb but larger than New Zealand varieties. Both New Zealand and Australia raise dual-purpose sheep for wool and meat production.

Most sheep are raised by a network of hundreds of small family farms and ranchers.  According to the American Lamb Board, “there are more than 80,000 family farmers and ranchers caring for over 6 million sheep throughout the United States”. These farmers are committed to practicing good land management, animal well-being, and natural grazing that is compatible with the environment. Some proprietary labels, including Niman Ranch and Strauss, have established their own programs for raising and feeding animals in a humane manner that eliminates hormones and antibiotics and uses 100% vegetarian diet.



Flavors of Lamb

The flavor of lamb depends on how it is raised. Since American lamb are mostly pastured or barn-raised on grasses and grain finished from 30 to 70 days producing a larger weight class that is fattier. New Zealand lamb are strictly pasture-raised on grasses which produces a leaner, smaller carcass with a grassy, more pronounced lamb flavor.

Age is a factor in lamb flavor too with younger animals under 1 year, tasting milder, while those over a year or two (yearlings and mutton respectively) have a much stronger flavor. The best tasting lamb is under a year old, often 6-10 months. Some farmers say grass fed tastes better because they grow slower and are less fatty, while others prefer the taste of a grain finish. It really comes down to personal preference and often cultural tradition is a factor too. Most people who grew up eating grass-fed lamb prefer the heartier taste, while Americans, who are big beef eaters, like the taste of grain-finished lamb.


Preparing Lamb

Prepare lamb like you would any red meat. Remember that the cuts in the middle, including the rack and loin, are best cooked by dry heat methods including grilling, broiling, and pan-searing. The legs are ideal for roasting, while braising and stewing are the best methods for the shoulder and shanks.


Fabrication

Understanding carcass structure aids in the breakdown, cutting, and portioning of lamb for service. Always start with a clean work station, sanitized equipment, and sharp tools. Keep the meat as cold as possible. Use a saw to cut through bone and a knife to cut through muscle, and wear a mesh glove to prevent accidental cuts.

Understanding the basic skeletal and muscle structure aids in cutting accuracy, maximizing your yield, and uniformity of portion cuts.





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