Everything you need to know about cuts of lamb

By
Adrian Richardson
Added
26 March, 2014

Meat expert and chef Adrian Richardson explains the different cuts of lamb, and what you should use them for.

Which cuts of lamb to buy

Most lamb is fairly tender because it comes from a young animal, but you still need to give some thought to choosing the right cut for each method of cooking. Don’t make the mistake of choosing the less expensive cuts, which are layered with plenty of connective tissue and fat, and thinking you can get away with quick-cook methods like grilling or barbecueing. The various muscles are put to varying degrees of work, and need to be treated accordingly.

cuts of lamb

A: Shank

There was a time when lamb shanks were virtually given away as cheap off -cuts. These days they are recognised for what there are: a nice meaty cut (from the bottom-end of the leg) that cooks down to delectably tasty tenderness. Lamb shanks are not as generous as veal shanks, but they are similarly rich in gelatinous connective tissue that is released by long, slow cooking.

B: Leg

Everyone recognises a leg of lamb and I think most of us would have a go at roasting one. They are brilliant when studded with garlic and sprigs of rosemary and oven-roasted until pink and juicy. The leg can also be boned and butterflied (the meat opened out flat) for grilling on the barbecue. Or it can be cut into steaks, which are great for grilling, barbecuing or quickly frying in a hot pan.

C: Chump (Rump)

The chump is sometimes sold attached to the leg, which makes for a monster roast indeed. When removed, it is the equivalent of beef rump, and makes a very neat and tasty roast. Sometimes the chump is cut into chops, which are good and meaty.

D: Loin

Equivalent to beef sirloin, the loin gives us some of the most tender lamb, and comes in a variety of ways, both on and off the bone. There are actually two loins, attached in the middle (at the backbone); when sold together, these form the very grand roasting cut known as the saddle. You are probably more likely to find a single loin, which is called the shortloin when left on the bone. When cut off the bone, the loin is also called a strap or backstrap. It is sometimes sold with a flap of fat still on, and the whole thing is rolled up and tied for roasting. Loin and middle loin chops are lovely and tender, and are ideal for grilling or barbecuing as quickly as possible.

E: Best End

Also known as the rack (of the first eight ribs), and one of the best-loved and luxurious cuts of lamb. As with the saddle, each lamb has two racks, one on either side of the backbone. They are wonderful for roasting – rubbed with a marinade or even with a crunchy coating of crumbs. For a real celebration your butcher can form the two racks into a circle to create a crown roast. The rack can also be cut into its individual ribs, when they are called cutlets. I especially love them when they are dipped into egg and breadcrumbs and deep-fried to make very tasty little morsels.

F: Breast

This is often dismissed as being overly fatty, but I think it can be cooked very successfully. It’s best when filled with a tasty stuffing, then rolled up and slowly pot-roasted. It will produce a lot of fat, which you’ll need to drain off, and will benefit from a final blast in a hot oven to brown the outside. You may prefer to use the breast for mincing (it makes great sausages).

G: Shoulder

This is one of my favourite cuts of lamb. I think the shoulder makes a much tastier roast than the leg, largely because it has more fat. Otherwise the shoulder can be braised, when I think it marries well with strong flavours. Either method will bring out its intrinsic stickiness. With the bone removed, the shoulder can be stuffed and rolled – its fat content will keep it good and juicy inside.

H: Forequarter and Neck

Chops cut from the forequarter and neck are brilliant for slow-cooked casseroles and braises as they are marbled with plenty of tasty fat. But whatever you do, don’t think you can sling them on the barbie; they need long, slow cooking to make them tender and succulent. Try them for a Lancashire hotpot or even a Moroccan tagine.

I: Foreshank (Shin)

Equivalent to the hindquarter shank, but a much less meaty part of the beast. They need to be cooked very slowly to release their goodness.

How do you know when lamb is cooked?

My preferred way of testing for doneness is to measure the internal core temperature of any cut of lamb, using a digital instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Remember that the reading will rise by about 5°C as the meat rests, so begin checking the temperature about 10 minutes before the end of the recommended cooking time.

rare 35°C | medium–rare 45°C | medium 55°C | medium–well 65°C | well done 75°C

Things that love lamb

Allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, eggplant, garlic, lemon, marjoram, mint sauce, olive oil, oregano, peppers, red wine, redcurrant jelly, root vegetables, rosemary, salt, shallots, spinach, thyme, tomatoes, yoghurt.

This is an edited extract from Adrian Richardson's Meat. Read Adrian's guide to cuts of pork and cuts of beef.

COOK ADRIAN RICHARDSON'S LAMB RECIPES

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