Sheep bear lambs in early spring. The lambs drink mother’s milk up to 3 to 4 weeks, at which time they then start on grass and start to increase in size. Some say that Easter, when it is traditional to serve lamb, is actually too early for good tasting lamb, as they haven’t had enough time in pasture yet to eat grass and forage. Others say that when lambs start to graze, the flavour gets strong. Lamb is usually sold for meat by August / September.
When a lamb is young, its bones will be pink. As it gets older they will turn white. The meat also turns from a brownish red to a cherry red.
Types of lamb:
- Hot house lamb: up to 2 weeks old. Will weigh 10 to 12 pounds;
- Baby lamb: 4 to 6 weeks old, 15 to 20 pounds;
- Abbachio: Italian term for lamb between 20 and 30 days old, weighing between 10 and 20 pounds (5 to 10 kg);
- Agnellone: Italian term for a lamb over 40 pounds;
- Spring lamb: not really an indication of season any more, more an indication of age — 3 to 5 months old;
- Suckling lamb.
The carcass weight will be about 50% of live weight. Of the carcass weight, 70% will be retail cuts, 30% will be fat and bone. Lamb is aged like beef to increase its tenderness and flavour. It needs to be hung at least a week.
Baby lamb is usually sold whole, halved or quartered. Only when it’s older will a butcher usually attempt traditional cuts.
Lamb can be divided into roughly 3 areas of the animal: Fore End, Middle and Hind. Or more precisely, working backwards from the neck of the lamb, the shoulder section comes first, then the rib section, then the loin, then the rump (aka chump.)
Choose one of the following for a full-size cut chart:
In the US, the neck is either included in with the Shoulder Primal Cut, or it is just processed as slices called “Neck Slices.” It is harder to sell cuts labelled as “neck” in the US.
In the UK, 2 different cuts are made with the neck: Scrag End, and the other called “Middle Neck” or just “Neck.”
The cut called “shoulder” in the US is divided in the UK into two cuts: “scrag” at the very top, and below that, “shoulder middle neck.”
The cut called “sirloin” in the US is called “Chump” in the UK.
The rear leg, one entire cut in the US, is divided in the UK into “fillet end of leg” at the top, and “shank end of leg” below that.
Lamb from New Zealand used to always be brought north by ship, frozen. Now fresh is brought up by plane.
Many people do not like the taste of lamb fat.
As of 2005, Americans eat on average only 500 g (1 pound of lamb a year. 27 kg (60 pounds) of lamb per person per year is consumed in New Zealand.
Let lamb come to just room temperature before roasting.
Cook to 60 C(140 F); let rest to 63 C (145 F.)
For a savoury lamb roast, make slits in the lamb you are going to roast, and press an anchovy fillet in each slit along with some garlic slices and rosemary.
To roast large joints of lamb: heat oven to 230 C (450 F.) Cook joint for 15 minutes so that the centre gets heated, then reduce heat to 200 C (400 F) and roast at this temperature for the following times according to desired doneness:
- Rare: 13 minutes per kg (2 pounds)
- Medium: 18 minutes per 500 g (pound);
- Well-done: 20 to 22 minutes per 500 g (pound).
Roast smaller joints at 230 C (450 F) for the whole time.
Generally, people don’t make gravy with lamb as is too fatty. That’s why it was traditionally served with mint sauce. To make gravy for lamb, you generally need to start from a previously prepared lamb stock, or have had time to set the “jus” in the fridge, to allow every last bit of the fat to congeal to the top to be removed and discarded.
To braise lamb, brown it first in a frying pan. Don’t trim away all the fat, as the fat will help to stop the meat from drying out during this. Lamb cooks faster by braising than many other meats — check it after 45 minutes.
Lamb barbeques very well because of the fat marbling it has. Season lamb pieces with pepper, rub with oil. Allow 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium, 5 minutes per side for well-done.
Lamb was often reserved for sale at the market; the family and the poorer people would eat pork.
Very young lamb is called in Italian “abbacchio.”
Sucking lamb is “agneau de lait” in French, “Milchlamm” in German and “cría de cordero” in Spanish.
Dupree, Nathalie. Luscious Lamb. Charleston, South Carolina: The Charleston Post and Courier. 23 March 2005.