The Springtime Guide to Lamb
Lamb has long been associated with Springtime: It is eaten during spring holidays like Easter and Passover, and they are typically born during this season making them readily available. When the long and cold winter finally ends and spring is in bloom, lamb recipes jump to greet us! Really any time is good for this deliciously rich meat, but Spring has long been the traditional season for lamb. So now, you’re ready to plan some delicious lamb meals, but what cuts of lamb do you get? Also, what is the best way to prepare them? This can be overwhelming as there are a variety of different lamb cuts available, all of which can be very good when cooked properly. Also, each cut has unique characteristics, making it important to understand the types of lamb cuts and how they differ. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! In this blog, I’ll break down the different cuts of lamb and how best to prepare and serve them!
Lamb Chops – Loin
Loin chops are the lamb equivalent of a T-bone or porterhouse steak. This cut comes from the lamb‘s back, between the ribs and the leg of the animal. Lamb loins tend to be cut into thick chops, and they’re meatier than their delicate rib chop counterparts. Although this cut is slightly less tender and flavorful than a rib chop, it’s still delicious and usually lower in price. The meat is tender, making them well-suited to high-heat cooking methods like searing, broiling, or grilling. They are best cooked to medium-rare, or 130° F, and should be allowed to rest before serving to maintain tenderness and flavor.
Lamb Chops – Shoulder
The lamb shoulder is a hard-working and fatty area, which means that the chops from this area are less tender than a rib or loin chop. However, they have a significantly bolder flavor which is well worth the trade-off depending on what you’re making. This large muscle is full of rich and sweet flavored meat and is best-presented whole, as a roast, cut into steak-sized chops, or diced up for stew meat. Lamb shoulder is also a cut that requires long cooking methods. You’ll want to cook them slightly longer than a rib or loin chop, and at lower heat. They also can become more tender if you use brine, a rub, or a marinade to help break down the muscle fibers.
Ground Lamb is ground lamb meat, that usually comes from the shank and neck as well as trimmings from the breast, flank, leg, loin, rib, or shoulder. This lean meat is juicy, tender, and has an intense flavor making is perfect for a variety of dishes. When lamb is ground and crisp, it tastes less gamey than a chop, but you can still get a little bit of that gamey flavor. If that doesn’t appeal to your tastebuds, you can soak it in milk or yogurt prior to cooking to get rid of the gaminess. When cooking ground lamb, make sure to add some strong spices that pair well, like cumin, fennel, and chili flakes. Keep in mind though, that with spices, a little goes a long way because this type of meat is already so rich when it comes to flavor.
Lamb Leg Roast – Bone-in
Although a lamb has four legs, only the two hind legs produce the cut referred to as the “leg of lamb”. The leg is available in several different forms including sirloin end, shank end, short leg, and frenched. This cut is a perennial choice for holiday feasts, especially Easter Sunday, and it’s dark, strong in flavor, melt-in-the-mouth meat, making it a delicious and easy to carve centerpiece. When cooking a leg of lamb, be cautious not to overcook it. This cut is like lamb shoulder which means it’s from a hard-working and lean muscle, so if overcooked it could end up quite dry. Roasting is the best method for cooking this cut of meat because its fat content makes it brown nicely in the oven. Like all roasts, it’s important to allow the meat to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving it, as this gives the juices a chance to settle and soak into the meat.
Lamb Mutton Leg – Steak
Mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than 1 year, ideally 3 years old. This kind of meat has a very strong flavor, and one might have to acquire the taste before being able to enjoy it. The gamey flavor of mutton does tend to appeal more to people who also enjoy other game meats such as deer, rabbit, and boar. One way to reduce the strong gamey flavor of this cut is to remove the pink skin and trim off fat. Because mutton is tougher, cooking it slow is the best way to go. Braising or slow cooking the mutton for more than 3 hours at a low temperature helps soften it and is the best way to tenderize the meat and bring out the flavor. This helps break down the tough fibers, collagens, and connective tissues, making it softer. You can also complement the flavor by adding things like garlic, olive oil, mint, wine, rosemary and thyme, pepper, dry mustard, and curry powder.
The shank is a cut from the lower portion of the lamb’s leg that comes with a ton of meat wrapped around a bone. With the bone running through the center, this cut is one of the most flavorful parts of the lamb. Though it’s a tough cut, lamb shank can become “fall off the bone” tender when prepared right and goes well with strong flavors. Low and slow cooking is the best way to achieve meltingly tender meat that falls off the bone. The rich meat can also handle a good amount of flavor, so don’t be afraid to get bold with it! Braising also works well or cook the shanks in a foil packet with a small amount of liquid. For delicious, braised shanks, try dusting it in flour and then brown it in a hot pan before roasting in a low oven. This cut pairs well with carrots, celery, onions, herbs, and plenty of red wine.