Lamb is the general term used for meat that comes from a sheep less than 12 months old. Baby lamb is meat from a sheep 6–8 weeks old. If the meat comes from a sheep 3–5 months old, the meat is called spring lamb. These two kinds of lamb exist mostly on milk so their meat is tender. Yearling lamb meat comes from sheep 1-2 years old. A yearling lamb is a bit older, but too young to be called mutton.
This kind of meat is more tender than mutton, which comes from older sheep. Lamb is also milder in flavor compared to mutton. It appears most often in Western countries where domestic sheep is common. It is used as an ingredient in cuisine from Australia, North Africa, the Mediterranean, North Atlantic islands, the Middle East, and certain parts of Asia.
Lamb is divided into 5 primal cuts:
- Rack is uncut primal rib, from ribs 6 to 12. This is further cut into two major rib roasts.
- Shoulder is cut into blade and arm chops
- Loin provides tender chops
The five USDA grades for lamb are based on the proportion between lean and fat to lean. They are prime, the best cut; choice; good; utility; and cull.
Lamb is sold ground, and as chops, steaks, and roasts.
When buying lamb, look for good marbling (combination of white fat and pink flesh). Meat should be pink. A darker color means the lamb is older. The fat must not be too thick. The texture should be fine, and the meat should be firm to the touch.
Tips in Preparing and Cooking Lamb
- If the lamb is stored in the freezer, make sure to thaw it before cooking.
- A frozen leg of lamb should be defrosted in the refrigerator. Let it sit and age there for one week before cooking.
- Lamb has a thin layer of paper-like covering (called fell) on its outer fat. Fell is often removed from chops and other cuts in the market, but you do not need to take it off roasts and legs. It helps the cuts maintain their shape and succulence while cooking.
- You can eat lamb raw if it has been kept in the refrigerator at 38-40 Fahrenheit. Defrost it in the refrigerator before preparing it.
- Do not cook lamb above medium rare. It will become tough and all the juice will dry out.
- When cooking roast lamb, use an oven-proof thermometer which allows you to observe the lamb without opening the oven door. Opening the door lowers the temperature of the oven and may disrupt the cooking process.