Lamb is a meat that’s eaten all over the world and its rich taste combines well with spices and other highly flavoured ingredients. In the UK, lamb is closely associated with roasting at Easter in tagines and stews or for quick-cooking as chops, but it’s a versatile meat with lots of different cuts suited to different cooking methods.
Tougher cuts are ideal for slow-cooking and make great braises and stews while prime cuts can be quick-cooked, barbecued or roasted and are best eaten pink. Lamb also comes conveniently minced which makes it a great alternative to beef in burgers and for making kebabs, as well as for cooking that most traditional of lamb dishes, shepherd’s pie.
Know your cuts
Shoulder – This is a fatty cut that can be left whole on the bone, or boned then rolled into a roasting joint. It can be traditionally roasted but is best slow-roasted, pot-roasted or braised with liquid until practically falling apart. Shoulder can also be diced for stewing, or cut into shoulder chops.
Neck fillets – A boneless fillet of meat that is ideally quickly pan-fried or roasted then sliced. A single neck fillet serves two.
Rack of lamb – This is a trimmed rack of six chops that can either be roasted whole and carved, or cut into chops from raw and then quick-cooked.
Saddle – The saddle is two racks of lamb still attached normally, boned, stuffed, rolled and tied into a prime roasting joint that feeds six people. When kept on the bone and sawed into thick slices the saddle becomes a Barnsley chop.
Loin – Also called a cannon or fillet of lamb, this is the eye of the meat from the rack and is like the lamb equivalent of beef fillet. It’s a very lean, neat piece of meat that should be quick-cooked and served rare.
Breast – A very fatty inexpensive cut that’s often minced. Whole, it needs to be slow-cooked until tender and can be cooked on the bone, or boned and rolled.
Chump/rump – The same cut is called two different things by different chefs and butchers. This is a boneless square of meat from the top of the leg. The chump can be thickly sliced into boneless chump chops, or kept whole then roasted, or barbecued and carved. A whole chump will serve two to three people and is best served pink.
Shank – Lamb shanks need to be slow-roasted or braised and each one makes a generous single serving.
Leg – The most versatile of all the cuts, it’s lean enough to serve pink and with enough fat to remain succulent when well-cooked. A whole leg of lamb on the bone is the iconic Sunday lamb roast, but legs can also be boned, stuffed and rolled to roast. Leg is the best cut to barbecue when it’s boned and opened up (butterflied), cut into leg steaks, or diced for kebabs.
Mince – Lamb mince makes a great alternative to beef in burgers, meatballs and kebabs, and it is also the essential ingredient in a shepherd’s pie or keema curry.
Lamb chops and steaks
Chops are quick to cook and easy to portion but they differ depending on which part of the lamb they come from.
Lamb cutlets – Taken from the rack of lamb, these neat chops can come with a layer of fat surrounding the meat which extends to the bone, or they can be French-trimmed to expose the bone. These can be pan-fried, griddled, quickly barbecued and sometimes used in casseroles.
Loin chops – Cut from the saddle, these meaty chops have a T-shaped bone in the middle and as they’re so thick, the meat is quickly roasted.
Barnsley chops – A double loin chop (see above). A single Barnsley chop is the perfect portion for one.
Chump chops – A boneless slice of the chump, these are very good value and can be pan-fried or barbecued like a steak.
Leg steaks – A cross-section of the leg, these steaks can vary in size and normally have a piece of bone in the middle that the marrow can be eaten out of once cooked. A great steak to barbecue.
Know your terms
Butterfly – To open up and bone the whole leg of lamb so it’s a sheet of meat that cooks quicker and more evenly. A butterflied leg of lamb is normally barbecued but can be roasted.
French-trimmed – When a rack of lamb has the bones exposed, neatly trimmed and cleaned of any fat or gristle.
Tunnel-boned – This applies to a leg of lamb that’s been carefully part-boned to create a cavity that can be stuffed. When tied, a tunnel-boned leg of lamb keeps its original shape and is easy to carve.
Studded – Small incisions are made in the lamb flesh with the point of a small knife, then stuffed with flavour-enhancing ingredients like slithers of garlic and sprigs of rosemary.
Here is our basic recipe for roast leg of lamb with gravy but you can choose other flavours from our flavour guide to enhance it. We’ve also given a general guide to timing and temperatures, if you want to make changes.
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 2hrs, plus resting
- 2 onions roughly chopped
- 2 carrots roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, kept whole
- 1 branch of rosemary
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- leg of lamb, around 2kg
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 150ml red wine
- 300ml lamb, beef or chicken stock
1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Tip the vegetables, garlic and rosemary into a roasting tray and toss in a little of the oil. Sit the lamb on top, rub with the remaining oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the lamb in the oven and roast for 1 hr 40 mins for rare meat, 2 hrs for medium and 2 hrs 30 mins for well done (see our temperature guide below).
2. Carefully lift the lamb onto a board with a moat, or a warm platter, then leave to rest for 20 mins. Meanwhile pour most of the fat from the tin and place the tin on a low heat. Stir the flour into the roasted veg and cook for a few mins to make a sandy paste. Pour in the wine and simmer for 2 mins then pour in the stock and any juices from the resting lamb. Simmer and stir for a few more minutes, season to taste and strain through a sieve into a small saucepan ready to reheat and serve. Carve the lamb into thick slices and serve with the gravy.
Ovens perform differently and barbecuing or pan-frying lamb will involve guesswork, unless you have a digital cooking thermometer. Here are the temperatures of the meat when probed with a cooking thermometer that you need to know to cook lamb to your liking:
50C – very rare
55C – medium rare
60C – medium (pink)
65C – medium well
72C – well done
Lamb is a delicious meat to barbecue, especially over coals when the fat and juices drop onto them and sizzle, creating smoke that flavours the meat. Minced lamb makes great burgers and koftas while individual chops and steaks can also be cooked quickly. A large ‘butterflied’ leg of lamb is the perfect barbecue option when catering for a crowd.
Any good butcher should be able to butterfly a leg of lamb for you, or watch our video on how to do it yourself:
Lamb is eaten globally and can be cooked with a wide variety of flavours. Here are some classic pairings:
British – cooked with capers, rosemary and or thyme or served with redcurrant jelly or mint sauce
Mediterranean – cooked with one or a combinations of garlic, olives, anchovies, lemon, basil
North African – cooked with one or a combinations of cinnamon, saffron, chilli, cumin
Indian – cooked with one or a combinations of cinnamon turmeric, coriander, ginger, lime, cumin, curry paste, garam marsala, yogurt
Slow cooking in liquid transforms tougher cuts of lamb into fork-tender meat. Neck, shoulder and belly, either diced or as whole joints, are the best cuts for slow cooking and need to be cooked for at least 2 hrs at 150C to soften the meat. Lamb is slow-cooked all over the world from veg-packed Irish stews, Greek kleftiko, Southern-French daubes, North-African tagines and spicy Indian curries.
Hogget, mutton and goat
‘Lamb’ is meat from an animal that’s under a year old, hogget is an older lamb (1-2 years) and mutton is the meat from a fully-grown sheep (2 years +). British goat meat is becoming more readily available and is a generally sold at the same age as lamb.
The meat from lamb, hogget, mutton and goat are interchangeable but hogget and mutton have a stronger, more developed flavour and the meat from goat is a bit richer than lamb.
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What is your favourite lamb dish to cook? Leave a comment below…