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How to cook with lamb

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Although I’ve been cooking with lamb for a number of years, there’s still a lot I don’t know. For example, when it comes to the variety of cuts available, I usually have to give them a quick search on the internet to see what is best to use. The most well-known and frequently purchased cuts for local consumers at the moment are chops and racks, but there are so many other cuts that you can use for different types of cooking.

It can be intimidating to cook with a new cut of meat for the first time, so I went to meet with Garrett Lander, the World Champion butcher from Garrett’s Butchers in Limerick. He gave me a master class in the different cuts of lamb, how to cook them, and what flavours you can combine them with.

Leg of lamb

Legs of lamb

When it comes to flavour, leg of lamb has the strongest flavour. There are a few different ways you can prepare a leg of lamb:

One is of course the traditional leg of lamb, which is great to use in roasts. As this can often be quite large they can be cut into two separate pieces: shanks and fillets. Shanks (also called frenched shanks) are perfect for slow cooking, which will give them a soft, melt in the mouth texture. Needless to say, these are a very popular cut for local consumers.

At Garrett’s you can get both dressed and infused leg of lamb, with herbs and spices such as rosemary, thyme and garlic grown in their own polytunnel. Rosemary and thyme are also really great for dry-aging lamb, as they won’t overpower but they’ll still give a hint of flavour. Garrett also advises that this time of year is perfect for dry aging lamb, and leg cuts are perfect for this preparation.

Another way of cooking a leg of lamb is by removing the bone so you are left with a beautiful, easy to carve leg that can then be stuffed with traditional bread stuffing or more modern accompaniments like couscous, lamb mince, feta cheese, sundried tomato and spinach. You can also then cut this into lamb steaks so that no meat goes to waste, the steaks can also be sliced up further to be used as a lean stir-fry meat.

In summer, a lot of the legs are butterflied in either a full or half butterfly. A Butterflied leg of lamb is great for barbecues as it cooks quickly compared to a full leg.

If you’re looking for a quick roast during the week or weekend for just 2-3 people then lamb mini roasts are an ideal choice. You can use them in stews or casseroles as well and some butchers might sell them with some gravy or jus included to make things easier.

Boneless leg lamb steaks (top), mini lamb steaks (middle), boneless shoulder steaks (bottom)

Loin of lamb

The loin of lamb is the most tender part of the lamb and is very popular in general, but especially when cut into rumps. They can then be stuffed with garlic and rosemary, for example. As they are quite small already they are not usually separated further, but if they are, they are usually used as rump steaks, which is again very popular for home cooks.

The loin can also be cut into chops, where you have 2 different varieties: side loin chops, and centre loin chops.

As a special treat, side loin fillets, also called back strap, are tasty with a little bit of seasoning. The bones are taken off of this cut which makes it slightly more expensive in comparison to the rest of the lamb cuts available. This is well worth it as it’s very lean and meaty and goes a long way as a portion.

Centre loin chops

Lamb rump steaks with mint and oil

Lamb rack

One of my favourite ways of cooking with lamb on the barbecue is by using racks, which are available trimmed or untrimmed. When all the meat is taken off the bone, also called French trimmed, you can wrap each individual bone in tin foil to avoid burning and cook your lamb slowly on the barbecue or in the oven. The rack can also be cut into cutlets, ideal for quickly frying in the pan. If you want to add more flavour you can crumb the rack and slice it into cutlets.

Lamb rack

Forequarter

Forequarters can be purchased on the bone and were once a very popular Sunday roast option but, in recent years consumers prefer butterflied shoulder of lamb, which is the forequarter without the bone. This forequarter cut is less expensive than the leg and the meat is very flavoursome. It is great for slow-roasting or stewing. You can also get an easy carve shoulder which is only partially boned or boned and rolled where the bones are removed and the meat is rolled and tied up. It’s again great for long and slow cooking, especially in liquid to make it more tender.

Butterflied shoulder has no bone and the muscles can be separated, into a rib eye lamb roast for example. With the rib eye removed you can remove the fat and slice into steaks which are also called boneless shoulder chops. These are hugely popular for consumers who prefer leaner meat and can also be sold as a full roast, stuffed with, chorizo, feta and crumbled black pudding. If you want to get creative, you can flatten the chops and add toppings like you would on a pizza.  This preparation is a very original and fun family dinner idea to get kids interested in eating lamb.

The shank of the forequarter can then be turned into lamb drumsticks – something I didn’t even know existed – and can be cooked in a bag until they fall off the bone. The drumstick is a very inexpensive &and easy piece to cook with during the week. Garrett’s recommendation is to cook it along with your roast on a Sunday and then eat it as leftovers during the week.

Lamb ribeye steaks with bone marrow butter

Lamb Breast

Lamb breast or belly can be used for 4 different things. Rashers, cured with just a little bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper, are a great alternative to standard pork rashers. You can also buy lamb breast as ribs, which can be seasoned with a mint sauce for example or stuffed with parsley, couscous, or cheese, among other ingredients. If you’re looking for flavour for a stew or stock, you can use lamb breast as gigot or chewing chops. You can also flatten lamb breast and either stuff it with your favourite stuffing or use it to wrap around other lamb cuts to increase the flavour.

Lamb Mince

Arguably the most versatile cut of lamb available, lamb mince is also inexpensive and can be used for sausages or burgers that can then be dry aged or mixed with loads of different options and flavour combinations. At Garrett’s, the team recommends rosemary and mint or spinach, roasted onion, sundried tomato and feta cheese or porterhouse cheese, chives and goat cheese. For the more adventurous cooks, unusual pairings like Chinese plum are also well-suited to stand next to the rich flavour of lamb.

If you’re looking to create a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern-inspired meal, you could make a lamb mince kofta using some Mediterranean oils or spices and frying them on the barbecue, in a pan or in the oven. For novice lamb cooks, I recommend swapping out traditional mince for lamb mince in a favourite dish to explore the wide range of applications available for this rich and flavourful mid-week ingredient.

Seasoned lamb kofte

I learned so much from Garrett and am feeling incredibly inspired to experiment with new cuts of lamb! Who knew you could use meat as a pizza base? Thanks to Garrett, I have also discovered some fantastic flavour combinations for pairing with lamb through dressings and stuffings. I took home some local lamb steaks with bone marrow butter for a simple, tasty dinner and they were simply divine!

I hope you’ve learned a thing or two from my masterclass at Garretts, let me know in the comments below what your favourite cuts and cooking methods are!

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