Any sheep that is less than a year old is classified as lamb. The red meat is lean and mild. Lamb is more popular than beef in many parts of the world. As a crown roast (circular racks) or “guard of honor” (two rib racks crossed), it is one of the most elegant presentations anyone can prepare.
- The typical cuts of lamb seen in grocery stores are from a lamb between the ages of five months and one year. Specialty markets may carry whole “hothouse” or baby lamb and Spring (Easter) lamb. Some ethnic recipes will include “mutton” or “yearling,” which should not be referred to as lamb. They are older and stronger in both texture and taste.
- Cuts from the rib section will be expensive. They are tender and juicy and include “rack of lamb,” “crown roast,” and chops.
- Loin cuts are also superior in tenderness and flavor and even pricier than rib meats. These include roasts, the saddle, tenderloins, and chops.
- Shoulder meat tends to be less tender and more bony than leg sections and cost the least.
- Only the back legs are processed for commercial sale.
- Ground lamb is the main ingredient in moussaka, a traditional Mediterranean dish.
- Lamb is graded in a manner similar to beef: prime, choice, and good (along with “utility” and “cull”). Choice and Prime are the most commonly available. The numbering system – one-five – refers to the meat to fat ratio per animal.
- Stew meat can be purchased in chunks, or larger sections, which can be cubed at home. These should be from the less expensive parts of lamb.
- For sautes, choose medallions or chops that are no thicker than one inch. Cook dry for a perfect sear.
- If packaged, be sure that there is little or no liquid inside. Meat should not be shiny, but may have a membrane called the “fell” adhering to part of the surface.
- Calculate about one pound per person when buying a leg roast. Reduce to one-half pound per person if the cut is boneless. A rack of about eight ribs will typically serve two-three people.
- Do not use any lamb beyond the “sell by” date if it has not been frozen.
- Chops and small portions should be refrigerated and used with two-three days. Keep in freezer for about four months.
- Large cuts will last up to five days if kept cold and tightly wrapped. Freeze for about eight months.
- Do not leave fresh meat unrefrigerated for more than hour.