In April, our monthly culinary book club discussed everything about lamb. This included how to identify the various butcher cuts of lamb so that you can walk up to a butcher and ask for a specific part of lamb. We reviewed diagrams that showed us these cuts. Very helpful to those that are new to eating lamb. As we discovered, how you cook your lamb will entice you to try new recipes.
According to the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer. 1997), most lamb comes to market between five and seven months of age, usually weighing between 50 and 60 pounds. The smallest lambs are often referred to as milk-fed lamb. They are more tender and delicate in flavour. Mutton, is rarely available in the United States, and refers to the meat of sheep that are over two years old. Although they are similar in taste, usually more time is required for cooking. As well, there is more fat on mutton, so you will have to trim more fat off before cooking. The meat of mutton is larger and darker in colour, and much more richer in flavour.
Comparing lamb to beef, the grading of the meat is different. Lamb is graded prime, choice, and good. A higher grade of lamb will go to lamb that has a thick, well-shaped eye muscle in the loin and rib cuts. Less than 10 percent of lamb meat is graded prime. You will discover that the most popular cuts of lamb sold in the United States usually are: leg, chops, rack, and loin. Less tender cuts of lamb include: the shoulder, shanks, and breast. These cuts are delicious when braised or stewed until tender.
I enjoy taking two lamb shanks and placing them inside a tangine, a ceramic baking dish that has two parts, an upper and lower. The upper part is like an inverted closed funnel that sits on the bottom part. By using a tangine to cook your lamb, you will discover that your meat will fall off the bone when cooked. It will be juicy and tender as well. As we discussed within our culinary group, many people have never eaten lamb, just because their families never ate lamb. Discovering from others what cut is their favourite, plus how they like to cook their lamb, is helpful to those who are venturing into new culinary territory.
I grew up eating lamb during various seasons of the year. We would always enjoy a roast leg of lamb when we visited my grandparents. Served with rice and brussel sprouts, I recall enjoying this special dinner, as my mother never cooked lamb at home other than lamb chops. Of course, we grew up with homemade mint jelly that always accompanied our lamb chops. However, as I learned later in life, lamb shanks have become my favourite. Rubbed with a variety of spices (ground tumeric, ground cumin, garlic slices stuck into the meat by jabbing knife into random parts of your shank, ground coriander, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cardamon, and salt) plus olive oil, and put inside a plastic bag overnight in the fridge, your lamb shanks will be ready for cooking the next day. I usually buy two, one per person, and place them inside my tangine.
I put sliced onions and little potatoes alongside my lamb shanks, then place the tangine lid ontop. Placed into an oven that is set at 350 degrees, I usually let it cook about an hour. Using a meat thermometer, you can see when the meat is cooked. I usually take a knife and see how easily the meat falls off the bone. I prefer a pinkish meat when cooking my lamb. Mmmm….. delicious, especially when served with rice. I prefer to serve lamb shanks with brussel sprouts, or some other root vegeteble, such as parsnips or carrots. Of course, it is also complimented by any eggplant dish. You choose your favourite cut and vegetables and enjoy and expand your culinary horizons!
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