Often thought of as a springtime meat, lamb is a flavorful protein option available from local sources all year long.
Although lamb is a popular meat in many countries around the world, it is often neglected in the United States, or at best reserved for certain holidays. Much like a whole turkey on Thanksgiving, lamb usually only makes an appearance at Easter and Passover tables, often as a whole roasted leg.
Lamb has historically been considered a spring meat because late winter calves are ready to be slaughtered and eaten at right about the same time as early spring holidays. In the United States, the word lamb refers to the meat of sheep less than 1 year old; most of what is sold commercially is between seven and 10 months old. (In other English-speaking countries, like Australia and England, lamb is less that a year old; an animal between one and two years of age is called a hogget, and anything older than that is mutton.)
Americans consume about a pound per year of lamb per capita, well below the world average of about four pounds. In Australia and New Zealand, both major lamb-producing nations, the per capita average is about 26 pounds annually — and in many other countries, including Greece, India, and North Africa, lamb is the main source of animal protein. Religion plays a part in lamb consumption, as cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and pork is forbidden in Muslim countries, so lamb is often eaten instead.
Lamb is a staple in Mediterranean, Indian, Irish, Italian, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines. Barbacoa — pit-barbecued lamb — is a popular dish in Mexico, while roasted lamb leg is the national dish of Australia. In Greece and the Balkans, lamb is often grilled in the form of kebabs or, in Greece, shaved into a gyro.
As a rich, slightly earthy meat, lamb pairs well with flavors like cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, curry powder, oregano, and thyme, and bright flavors like blue cheese, lemon, mint, and mustard.
Find out more about this underutilized meat with some insight from the American Lamb Board.
Consumption of Lamb
Each person in the United States eats only a pound of lamb per year, compared to the 61 pounds of beef.
Cuts of Lamb
The most popular cut in the United States is the rack, but other cuts are delicious too. Shoulder is a good value, and can be used for stew and ground meat. Loin makes loin roasts and chops, leg can be roasted whole or cut into kebabs, and Denver ribs — or lamb ribs —from the breast and foreshank can be roasted or grilled.
Julie Ruggirello is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @TDMRecipeEditor.