Lamb meat is sold in supermarkets but not in the same quantities as beef, pork, or chicken. We may not cook lamb as often as other meat products, and, therefore, may not be as familiar with it. If you love lamb and want to cook more of it at home, some helpful information follows:
Lamb (sometimes referred to as regular lamb)is the meat from young sheep that are slaughtered when the sheep are less than one year old. Baby lamb are slaughtered between 6 and 8 weeks of age; Spring lamb is usually three to five months old. Lamb between 12 and 24 months of age are referred to as yearlings. Sheep over two years old are called mutton. I don’t cook with mutton. This meat will be tougher and have a stronger flavor. Most lamb sold in the supermarket is regular. Your supermarket is required to provide Country of Origin Labeling for lamb. When labeled Fresh American Lamb, you can be certain the meat you are purchasing was raised in the United States. American lamb weigh about 135 pounds, which is considerably larger than lamb grown in other countries. This yields larger cuts of meat and a higher meat-to-bone ratio. Although grassfed, a good percentage of US lambs are finished on grain. Lamb producers believe this makes the lamb meat more tender and gives it a milder, less gamey flavor.
Like beef, lamb is graded Prime, Choice, Good, Utility, and Cull. Your supermarket will sell Prime, Choice, and Good grades. Utility and Cull grades are used in processed meat products or for ground meat. The USDA grades lamb meat based upon maturity, color, firmness, and texture. Prime lamb will have more fat marbling, and, therefore, higher fat content, and be more tender and flavorful than Choice or Good. Choice will still have good marbling and flavor, but not as much as Prime. Good will have less marbling and flavor than Choice. Eighty (80) percent of the lamb sold in U. S. supermarkets is graded Prime and Choice. Following is one of my favorite lamb recipes:
Grilled Balsamic Lamb Chops with a Warmed Tomato Relish Serves 4
For the marinade:
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil ¼ cup balsamic vinegar 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon large grind black pepper 8 lamb chops, cut 1½-inches thick 3 teaspoons minced garlic 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
In a small bowl, combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper and mix well, Place lamb chops in a dish so that they fit tightly together. Coat lamb chops with garlic, cover with marinade, and sprinkle with rosemary. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. While lamb chops are marinating, prepare ingredients for the relish. To begin the warmed tomato relish:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ¾ cup yellow bell pepper, seeded, cored, and chopped ¾ cup red onion, chopped In a large non-stick skillet, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Sauté yellow bell pepper and red onion until limp. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
Vegetable cooking spray Lamb chops are best prepared in a grill pan and cooked on top of the stove, but they can be barbecued. Spray a non-stick grill pan with cooking spray and grill the chops over a high heat, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. To finish the warmed tomato relish:
1 cup tomato, chopped ¾ cup lightly-packed baby arugula
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
When chops are almost cooked, add tomato, arugula, rosemary, and thyme to the pepper-onion mixture, stirring gently. In the same skillet used to cook the pepper-onion mixture, return the relish to medium heat and cook until heated through. Relish should be warm but be careful not to overcook. Garnish lamb chops with relish and serve immediately.
Tips on shopping for lamb: The meat of lamb should be a rosy, pink or red color and contain white marbling, the white flecks of fat within the meat muscle. The fat trim around cuts of lamb should be firm, white, and not too thick. Lamb meat will be fine textured and firm. Lamb meat that is darker than rosy, pink is old and will not be as tender and flavorful. Packages of lamb should feel cold to the touch and be tightly wrapped with no tears or punctures. Do not purchase lamb that is dried around the edges or has a bad odor.
Tips on cooking lamb: Many recipes suggest bringing lamb to room temperature before grilling or cooking. Lamb should not be removed from the refrigerator more than 20 to 30 minutes before grilling or cooking. This should be sufficient time to bring it to the appropriate temperature for even cooking.
Due to residual heat, lamb will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven. Take it out of the oven when it is 5 to 10 degrees short of its desired cooking temperature. It will continue to cook. Lamb is best if it is allowed to rest for 15 to 30 minutes before eating.
Recommended internal temperature for rare, 120 to 129 degrees F; medium rare, 130 to 134 degrees F; medium, 135 to 144 degrees F; medium well, 145 to 154 degrees F; well done, 155 to 164 degrees F.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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