Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Don't let the fuzzy wuzzy lambs fool you. Butcher them. How to.

People have a problem with lamb. Lambs are too cute to eat, they say, they’re fluffy and bouncy and jump over rainbows. They smell like fresh hay or your favourite sweater. When they’re born, their legs are too long to do any good but they all want to be king of the hill. They have big wise eyes and want nothing more than to put their noses in your armpit. They’re full of promise, of Hallmark card spring. They don’t expect you to eat them. How could you?

When the lamb is meat, people don’t like the smell. It smells like farm, like barns. A bit like wax coats*. You can still smell sweater and something grassy. And lamb fat lingers long after the last chops are just bones. Once Alex used a friend’s power-saw to cut through a back to make chops - we will forever remember the sight of meat spraying out through the exhaust pipe and that’s even without the smell. Whenever you pass the room with all the tools, you smell lamb and vacuum cleaners.

But did you know that lambs, by the time they’re slaughtered at 4-6 months old, are too big to pick up and cuddle? And that if you’re eating lamb and its spring (and you live in the northern hemisphere) that the thing was born in a barn in the dead of winter, fattened up on compound feeds and won’t have seen a fresh blade of grass in its life (or, those that have, have been imported long-haul from the other hemisphere)? Did you know that ‘mutton’ doesn’t necessarily mean musty and most likely to be found boiling in a pot in Tangiers, but any sheep that is more than 2 years old? And that we call meat from a sheep aged more than 1 year ‘Hogget’? 

Did you know that, since sheep thrive outdoors and are happy enough in our grey, drizzle and hills, there was never much energy invested into the devision of intensive, indoor rearing methods calling for heavy dosages of antibiotics and incalculable misery, meaning that lamb's meat is, even if by default, likely to be free-range and largely chemical-free? 

And now you know all this, did you know that sheep also happens to be the easiest carcass to butcher yourself? And a friendly looking carcass at that. Lamb, once hung, doesn't go black or mouldy like beef can, and don't have no meaty funk. There's no remaining blood, no head, no feet and you can cut your cutlets as thick as you want. Which is a good thing. Nor do you need a power-saw - that was just for 'fun'.


Start by dividing the animal into three parts; the fore end (shoulders and neck), the rump (both the back legs) and the saddle area, which encompasses the bottom of the ribcage and the abdomen. Once this is done, the sections look a lot less challenging and are easier to work with. The simplest breakdown will give two leg joints, two shoulders, a pair of rib racks and some loin chops. The cheap, forgotten cuts of neck and breast are a bonus, as are the kidneys.

To extract the full value, and for extra foodie points, be sure to make stock from the bones and trimmings. Lamb stock freezes like no other. Use it everywhere (that you want to taste like lamb).

The first time you try it there will be a few mistakes. Meat may even fly. But that's living life to the fullest, right?

*Something our upstairs neighbour obviously hates so much that he has tried to hide a gel freshener in one of our pockets and, when discovered, has replaced this with one of those plastic boxes you find in airport bathrooms that spray poison ‘flower’ fumes at you.

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