Wednesday, 5 January 2011 | Tags: ,

According to Chef Gordon Ramsay, knowing where your food comes from is just as important as getting to know your local butcher. So, we head out to a sheep farm to get up close and personal with a few woolly friends. Here's what we learned about lamb for an episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.

Thank you to our butcher, Chris Jackson of Jackson’s Meats, for taking us on a field trip to a sheep farm near Vancouver for an in-depth look at where our meat comes from.

The Basics

  • When it comes to meet from sheep, there are different qualities depending on the age of the animal at the time of harvest:

    • Lamb meat comes from a sheep between 4 and 12 months old. Fresh lamb is usually at its peak availability between July and October. Lamb meat is lean and light red in colour.

    • Mutton is meat from a sheep over one year old. Mutton is stronger and less tender than lamb, has a darker colour and a deeper, gamey flavour. It is often used for stew. Yearling mutton is from a 12-24-month old sheep and has an intermediate flavour between lamb and older mutton.

  • Nutrition: Lamb is high in protein, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B3), Vitamin B6, B12, folic acid, zinc, iron, magnesium, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA).

Shopping Tips

  • When shopping for lamb, pay attention to the cut that your recipe calls for to ensure you get the right cut.

  • North American lamb has a milder taste than lamb imported from other producers (e.g. New Zealand), and is usually less expensive than imported lamb.

  • Try to buy your lamb at a local butcher for a fresher cut of meat and more choice. Also ask your butcher to trim off excess fat.

  • Choose the leanest cuts, with firm, creamy-white fat. Avoid cuts with excess fat or crumbly, brittle-looking, yellowish fat, which means it’s not fresh.

  • Cuts from a lamb under 1 year old will look pink, firm and finely-textured. A blue tinge on the knuckle bone and the a red, moist, porous bone cross-section are also signs of young age.

  • Large cuts are often covered in a white papery sort of membrane (called the fell) that should be removed before cooking.

  • There are a number of different types of cuts, but the most common are:

    • Shoulder: usually roasted.
    • Shoulder blade chops: usually braised, broiled, grilled, or pan-fried.
    • Shoulder arm chops: usually braised, broiled, grilled.
    • Shoulder neck slices: usually braised.
    • Breast: usually braised or roasted.
    • Breast riblets: long, narrow rib bones with layered meat and fat, usually braised or cooked in liquid.
    • Shank: braised or cooked in liquid.
    • Rib roast: usually roasted.
    • Rib chops: broiled, grilled, pan-fried, roasted, or baked.
    • Rib crown roast: roasted.
    • Loin chops: broiled, grilled, pan-broiled, pan-fried.
    • Loin double chops: broiled, grilled, pan-broiled, pan-fried.
    • Leg (whole): roasted
    • Leg shank (half): roasted
    • Leg, Frenched-style roast, shank bone intact (ask your butcher to prepare this): roasted
    • Leg, American-style roast, shank bone removed: roasted
    • Stewing lamb, meaty pieces with a little fat: braised or cooked in liquid.
    • Ground lamb includes meat and trimmings from the leg, loin, rib, shoulder, flank, neck, breast, or shank: braised, broiled, grilled, pan-fried, roasted, baked.

Cooking Tips

  • A roasting temperature of 160-175C (325-350F) is recommended. For best results, use a meat thermometer.

    • Rare: 140C/284F internal temperature;

    • Medium: 150C/302F;

    • Medium-well: 160C/320F.

  • Slow cooking ensures a tender, juicy, evenly-coloured, and delicious final product.

  • Frozen lamb doesn’t need to be thawed before cooking, but requires the normal cooking time plus 50% longer.

  • Depending on the amount of fat on your cut, you may require more cooking time (more fat) or less cooking time (less fat). Cooking times also differ depending on if the bone is in or if you have a boneless cut.

  • Lamb is best served piping hot, or well-chilled.

Storage Tips

  • Store fresh lamb in the back of your fridge or in the freezer immediately after buying.

  • Ground lamb and stew meat must be used within 2 days.

  • Lamb chops and roasts must be used within 3-5 days.

  • To freeze the lamb for a long period, wrap the original package in airtight freezer wrap or a bag. Use within 3-4 months.


  • As mentioned above, mutton is meat from a sheep that is no longer considered a lamb, usually between 2-5 years old.

  • The best time to buy mutton is in the fall, after a summer of grazing.

  • Good mutton will have been hung (aged) for at least 2 weeks to maximize tenderness and flavour. If this information is not on the label, ask the butcher.

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