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Cuts of Lamb: Hone Your Chops
Discover the different shapes this protein takes with Groupon’s guide to cuts of lamb.
According to the USDA, the average American eats just 0.7 pounds of lamb every year. This stands in sharp contrast to the 61 pounds of beef and 49.6 pounds of pork each person consumes in that same time, slotted into a busy schedule of baseball games and apple-pie-eating contests. An introduction may be in order, then: lamb meat comes from sheep less than a year old and tends to be lean and tender. In the butcher shop, it should display rosy-red flesh that’s fine grained and marbled with firm, white fat. In a store or on a restaurant menu, you might encounter several different cuts.
Rack: Rib chops come from the rack and have a long bone and very tender meat. A rack of lamb is made up of seven or eight rib chops, which are often crusted with herbs and coarse salt, then baked on high heat.
Breast: The breast contains lots of cartilage and connective tissue, which is why it’s often turned into ground lamb. To make kebabs, this ground meat is typically blended with onion, oregano, mint leaves, and black pepper before being shaped and grilled.
Loin: This is where you’ll find tender cuts such as lamb-loin roast and loin chops, which look like tiny T-bone steaks. These flexible cuts can be broiled, grilled, pan-fried, or tossed as a reward to well-behaved wolves.
Leg: Usually weighing between 8 and 10 pounds, a leg of lamb can feed six to eight people. Cutting one open from the middle produces thin steaks that can be grilled quickly, but roasted and braised legs are also popular presentations. Leg muscle can also be cubed for kebabs or thinly sliced.
Shank: The meat of the shank is found in the lower part of the leg and often braised or slow-cooked so that it will be tender upon serving.
Shoulder: The shoulder can be somewhat tough and chewy, which means that it stands up well to techniques such as grinding and slow roasting. Shoulder meat is a popular choice for lamb stews such as tharid, filled with vegetables and warm spices and served in a bowl lined with pita. The dish is notable for its appearance in a number of hadith, sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad. He reportedly used it as the basis of a compliment to his wife: “The virtue of Aisha as compared to other women, is like the virtue of tharid as compared to the rest of the foods.” Shoulders can be cut into shoulder chops, a less expensive but chewier and fattier alternative to rib or loin chops.