Last Updated: June 14, 2021
Just like a cow, when a lamb is portioned for consumption, it is segmented into various parts. But what is most important is knowing where lamb meat comes from, because I trust it can get confusing when we’re trying to distinguish lamb from mutton.
Lamb meat is from the young of a sheep from five months to a year old (also called a lamb), whereas mutton is meat from an older sheep that’s more than two years old. Of course, mutton is also widely known as meat from a goat, which further causes understandable confusion. If you really want to know what goat meat is called, you can impress your friends by saying ‘chevon’. But today, our focus is lamb—both the animal and the cut of meat.
The lamb shank is a cheaper cut that has the potential to go a long way. It’s taken from the lower part of the back legs, and as there is a lot of collagen in the shank, when cooked slowly, gives the meat a lovely soft, melting texture.
Lamb shank meat is extremely tough and full of connective tissue. It holds great value and the bone running through the centre provides a lot of the flavour, releasing collagen as the joint cooks and tenderises the flesh.
As a harder working part of the animal, the lamb shank needs slow cooking or braising; full, robust flavours will result from this and the flesh will become very tender and fall off the bone when cooked over arduous hours.
You can buy lamb shank here.
The lamb loin is also known as the lamb saddle and is located in the middle of the animal. This cut sits directly behind the ribs, running down the spine towards the animal’s hindquarters and is also considered as the most tender cut of lamb meat.
Not only is the lamb loin known for its exceptional tenderness, but it also happens to be the most flavourful.
It can be cooked in several ways—roasted, grilled, pan-fried, or braised. Off the bone, this section provides noisettes or in one piece, a cannon. The whole loin (both sides of the lamb), cooked as a solid single piece, is a very splendid joint known as a saddle of lamb and can feed up to eight or 10 people.
You can buy lamb loin here.
Lamb chops (or cutlets) are the most expensive cuts of lamb, but are incredibly delicious and tender. They are taken from the ribs (16 ribs in total) of the lamb and cooked individually. When a number of them are left together and cooked as a whole, they’re called a rack of lamb.
A rack of lamb consists of tender, lean, and flavourful meat as well as rib bones. If the ends of the bones are exposed after the fat has been trimmed away it is termed ‘French trimmed’. Two racks roasted together with the bones intertwined are known as a ‘Guard of Honour’. A rack of lamb can also be trimmed and tied into a circle to form a ‘Crown of Lamb’–a most impressive roast to serve at your table.
These cuts are best served pink, and are amazing roasted, served with crushed potatoes or served lollipop-style. You can also grill or pan-fry them.
You can buy lamb rack here.
Lamb neck is a highly underrated and inexpensive cut of lamb. However, it is a tough cut that needs very long, slow cooking.
The lamb neck is fatty, full of gelatine, and wrapped around cartilaginous bones. This provides strong flavours for whatever recipe you may use this cut in.
Lamb neck can be cooked slowly on low heat and it can also be treated like a steak and cooked quickly over high heat until pink. It goes well with a whole load of flavours and is delicious served with a great mash when cooked low and slow.
You can buy lamb neck here.
The lamb shoulder is the primal cut that includes the upper front leg, the shoulder blade, ribs 1 through 5, and the neck. Hence, the shoulder can also be divided into three sub-primals: neck, blade, and arm.
Lamb shoulder is affordable, flavoursome, and nicely marbled. The meat can be tough, as this part of the animal is constantly exercising (the harder muscles work, the tougher their meat will be).
Boned whole lamb shoulder is usually rolled and tied to maintain its shape if it is to be roasted. This is an ideal cut for stuffing.
As lamb shoulder is rich in connective tissue, it is your best choice for stews and braises. The shoulder is also sometimes sold as steak cuts. However, when it is cut, the shoulder will be tough unless it is cooked for a long time, at which point it becomes meltingly tender and luscious.
You can buy lamb shoulder here.
A lamb leg can easily be split into the fore shanks (front of the legs) and hind shanks (back of the legs). The hind shanks are known to be meatier than the fore shanks, and a leg of lamb can be found with the bone in, semi-boneless, or boneless.
Lamb leg is available in several different forms: sirloin end, shank end, short leg, and Frenched. Legs also come de-boned and butterflied, making it one of the most accessible cuts of lamb to feed a lot of people.
Lamb legs work hard, which means they have good, strong flavour, but need slow-cooking to reach fall-apart tenderness. Leg of lamb tastes great slow-roasted whole on the bone, or de-boned, marinated and barbequed. Lamb leg is a fairly lean muscle, so take care not to overcook it, because this can result in dry meat.
You can buy lamb leg here.
The lamb breast is separated from the saddle or loins by a cut parallel with the backline of the carcass and separated from the shoulder between the sixth and seventh ribs. Breast width depends on the length of the tail required on the loin. This cut also contains part of the rib cage and rib cartilage.
Cut from the belly of a lamb, it is a great cut for those with little experience cooking lamb but wish to yield maximum taste.
Lamb breast is a value cut that is often underused as it has quite a lot of fat and can be tough if cooked incorrectly. Treat as you would pork belly; the layer of fat brings tons of flavour and helps to tenderise the meat as it cooks. Best paired with light, lean ingredients to balance the flavour, boneless lamb breast tastes delicious when stuffed with bread crumbs, rolled, and then braised or roasted.
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