Category Archives: Lamb

Greek Lamb Sausage

I have Greek food on the brain.  The current infatuation has many diverse origins.  For starters this summer is the ten year anniversary of an epic trip through southern Greece, and I have been reading old food notes from the journey.  Also I’ll be doing a class on Greek mezze for Metro Continuing Education this fall.  With all this in mind last week I made a Greek lamb sausage.

Coils of Greek lamb sausageIn 2008 I spent five weeks in Greece, eating in tavernas two or three times a day.  I don’t think I ever had a sausage like this.  In other words this sausage is not traditional, but it is very much inspired by Greek loukaniko, a pork sausage flavoured with orange zest.

This version is made with 100% lamb shoulder, so I figured we may as well go ahead and use lamb casings.  And we may as well wrap them up into adorable little coils and skewer them.  I never saw this in Greece but it makes for an interesting mezze.  And as I wrote here, Canadian Greek food is very much wanting for interest right now.


Greek Lamb Sausage


  • 2.270 kgs lamb shoulder – I like Four Whistle lamb
  • 35 g kosher salt
  • 54 g garlic, minced fine
  • 25 g orange zest (I use a zest compound called Perfect Purée)
  • 6 g ground black pepper
  • 3.6 g allspice
  • 2.38 g dried oregano
  • 1.8 g cayenne pepper
  • 1.17 g bay leaf
  • 0.9 g chili flake
  • 240 mL chopped parsley
  • 220 g ice water


  1. Cut lamb shoulder into 1″ cubes.  Mix with salt and spices.  Spread onto a sheet tray in a single layer and semi-freeze.
  2. Grind meat using a 3/16″ plate.
  3. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand-mixer.  Add chopped parsley and water.  Mix on speed 2 for two minutes.
  4. Stuff mixture into lamb casings.  To make the spirals shown in the photo above, stuff into 19-21 mm lamb casings.  Be careful not to over-stuff as spiralling puts a bit of pressure on the contents.  Link into 22″ lengths.  Cut the links apart.  Curl into spiral shape.  Set spirals right up against each other on a sheet tray so that they are holding each other in shape.  Skewer.

Yield:  Approximately 16 spirals

Irish Stew

The defining element of Irish stew is the use of lamb neck, or scrag.

Traditionally it is made more like a casserole than a stew.  Actually it bares an uncanny resemblance to boulangère potatoes.  Lamb, potato rounds, and other vegetables are layered in a casserole, then covered with stock or water and baked in an oven.

Lamb neck is a very tough cut of meat.  I sear and braise the necks to tenderize, then use the shredded meat and cooking liquid to make the stew.

Once the necks are very tender to the tip of a paring knife, I remove them from the liquid and let cool briefly.  While the necks are still warm I fold back the meat and remove the neck bones in one piece.  There is also a large band of yellowish elastin that should be removed.  You can see it running down the centre of the neck meat below:

Removing the bones and elastin from the braised lamb neck.


Irish Stew


  • 2 lamb necks
  • 75 g bacon fat
  • 240 g yellow onion, 3/4″ dice (roughly 1 large onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 200 g carrot, 3/4″ dice (about 3 medium carrots)
  • 200 g celery, 3/4″ dice (about 2 large ribs celery)
  • 1/2 tbsp dried herbs (I use a mix of thyme, rosemary, and savoury)
  • 75 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 x 341 mL bottle ale
  • 375 g turnip, 1″ dice (rutabaga for all you moderns…. about 1 medium rutabaga)
  • 425 g yellow potato, 1″ dice (about 2 smallish potatoes)
  • spinach or kale


Part One: Cooking the Necks to obtain super tender meat and flavourful broth

  1. Season the lamb necks with salt and pepper.  Sear, either in a pan or a very hot oven, until amber in colour.
  2. Transfer the seared scrags to a pot.  Cover with cold water and put over medium-high heat.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.  Regularly skim the surface of the water with a ladle to remove foam and fat.
  3. Gently simmer the scrags until very tender when poked with a knife.  This will take at least a few hours.
  4. Remove the necks from the liquid.  Let cool, then remove the meat from the necks.  Vertebrae and a very hard bit of yellowish connective tissue.  Reserve 450 g shredded meat for the stew.  The rest of the meat can be used for other preparations.
  5. Reserve 1 L of the cooking liquid for the stew.  The remainder of the liquid can be reserved for another purpose.

Part Two: Making the Stew

  1. Melt bacon fat in a separate pot.  Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and dried herbs.  Sweat the vegetables until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add the flour and cook briefly.
  3. Slowly add the ale while stirring.  A thick sauce should form.
  4. Slowly add the 1 L of lamb stock.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add turnips and potatoes.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until turnips and potatoes are tender.

A bowl of Irish stew with buttered bread.

Lamb Brain

In case the title didn’t tip you off, this post contains pictures of a lamb brain and details on its preparation for human consumption.  If that bothers you, there’ll be a new post tomorrow that you’ll like better.


I would say that I eat more offal than most.  I don’t really seek it out, but by buying whole animals, there’s always some available to me.  Most of the offal I eat is from lambs, which is weird, because most of the meat I eat is from pigs, cows, and chickens.  The main reason that I have so much lamb offal is that every year I make haggis for Burns night.  That has me buying enough lamb lung, heart, and liver to feed anywhere from ten to forty people, depending on the year.

The reason I can do this is because Vicky and Shayne Horn at Tangle Ridge are so amenable.  I remember the first time I made haggis, walking from booth to booth at the Strathcona market asking for sheep’s lung and stomach, and being treated like a freak by a couple of producers.  The first year I bought a lamb from Tangle Ridge, I asked in passing if there was any offal available.  They basically said you can have as much of whatever you want, and they went out of their way to get it for me.

This year, besides the usual haggis requirements, I got a lamb head from the Horns.  Since lambs aren’t split down the spine like pigs and cows, the head is in tact.  This means you have the brain of the animal.

I’d never eaten brains before this fall.  Honestly I had some reservations, mostly due to some comments in the most recent issue of Lucky Peach,[1] but then I figured: Thomas Keller serves calf brain, and Fergus Henderson devotes an entire chapter of The Whole Beast to lamb brain, so I probably shouldn’t worry too much about it.

The most difficult part of the operation was removing the brain from the skull in one piece. You can remove the jaw by cutting away the cheeks, opening the mouth, cutting away more connections, prying the mouth further, and so on.  To open up the skull I used a cleaver and a mallet.  Start by tapping the cleaver through the skull at the forehead.  Be careful not to go too deep or you’ll damage the brain.  Then use the mallet to drive the cleaver around the circumference of the skull.  Eventually you will be able to pull the skull apart and remove the brain.

The brain itself is much more delicate and squishy than I anticipated.  I though it might feel like plastic, or clay.  It’s closer to a sack of viscous fluid.  If you took high school biology, you’ll roll your eyes at the following (I didn’t, so it was new and fascinating information to me): besides the familiar left and right hemispheres, there is a third part of the brain, in the middle, at the back, called the cerebellum.  It connects to the brainstem.  You have to handle the brain very delicately or it will break along one of these three divisions.

A whole lamb brain


As a first go-around, I simmered the little brain in vegetable broth.  The only true recipe I have for lamb brain is in Henderson’s The Whole Beast, but in his characteristic, understated style, the only guidance for cooking is, “poach gently for eight minutes,” giving no indication of desired doneness.  In my brief experience, I can tell you that I don’t think eight minutes is nearly long enough.  Perhaps my lamb brain was larger than his, but I doubt it, because my lamb was only 35 lbs (are Canadian lambs smarter than British ones?)  I poached my lamb brain for ten minutes, and it was still quite pink in the middle, so I returned the wobbly lump to the pot for another two minutes.  It finished with a blush of pink in the middle, a “medium well,” if you will.  I hope that’s okay, because then I ate it.

A mostly-cooked lamb brain, with thyme


I let the brain cool to room temperature, then separated it into lobes, and sliced it to expose the beautiful, cauliflower cross-section.  The “stem” of the cauliflower print was the white matter of the brain, the “florets” were a pale grey.  Even cooked, the brain tissue had a creamy, yielding texture.  I shingled the slices on buttered toast, seasoned with fleur de sel and black pepper, and finished with some oregano leaves.

I would describe the flavour of brain as muted liver.  The texture was frankly incredibly: silky and smooth, like eating custard.

Rounds of lamb brain, with their characteristic cauliflower cross-section, shingled on buttered toast


1.  The comments are in the article, “American Cuisine: Whatever That Is”.  Jonathan Gold says he avoids brains for three reasons:

Firstly, cholesterol exists to be your brain.  There’s nothing in a brain that isn’t cholesterol.  So you’re eating pure cholesterol, which is something to consider.

Second, the shape of brains is so convoluted that bacteria can hide anywhere in there, and there’s nothing  that you can do about it.  It’s not like muscle meat, where the interior tissue is sterile.

The third thing is that there are all those brain-related diseases like scrape and mad cow, and they’re completely impervious to heat.


Lamb Cutting: Front

Having removed the scrag when breaking the lamb into primals, the components remaining on the lamb front are the shoulder, the breast, and the shank.

I love having ground lamb in my kitchen, so usually I bone out on entire lamb shoulder just to run it through the meat grinder.  The other half is broken in a bone-in shoulder roast, a boneless breast ideal for stuffing and rolling, and a shank, one of the world’s supreme braising cuts.

Here is half of the lamb front, with the fell still attached.

Lamb front, with fell

We remove the fell to expose the fat cap.

Lamb front, fell removed

Here is the inside of the front, showing the backbone on the top, the first six ribs, and the breastbone on the bottom.

Opposite side of the front

Use a handsaw to separate the front into the shoulder (top) and the breast-foreshank (bottom).  The cut is made roughly parallel to, and a few inches below, the backbone.  The bone-in shoulder make a fantastic roast.

Dividing the front into the shoulder (top) and the breast-foreshank (bottom)

There is a natural seam between the foreshank and breast.  Follow that seam with your knife, and the two are easily separated.

Removing the foreshank from the breast

The breast portion can have the sternum and ribs removed in one piece.

Removing the breast bones from the breast meat

Lamb Cutting: Loin and Flank

The loin primal is divided into two sections.  The forward part, from the thoracic section of the spine, contains ribs, and is usually trimmed to make rack of lamb.  The back part, from the lumbar section, contains no ribs, and is usually broken into lamb chops.


Dividing the Loin Primal into the Rib and Loin Subprimals

This is the whole loin primal, with the fell still attached.

The whole lamb loin

Here is the underside of the loin primal.  You can see the rib section on the left, and the loin subprimal on the right.

The underside of the whole lamb loin

We divide the two by cutting after the last rib bone, then cleaving through the backbone.

Separating the loin primal into the rack and loin subprimal


How to make a Frenched Rack of Lamb

Frenched lamb rack is simply a lamb rack with the long rib bones exhaustively cleaned.  This an extremely popular cut in fine restaurants because of the showy presentation.

First, if it’s still attached, remove the fell from the rack.

Yanking the fell from the lamb rack

Next we remove the layer of meat and fat that is covering the rib bones.  We landmark this cut by looking at the cross-section of the rack and locating the central, round group of muscles.

Cross-sectional view of a lamb rack

We cut away all the meat and fat from the rib bones above the central round muscles.

Cutting away the fat cap to expose the ribs on a lamb rack

Now cut away all the meat and fat from between the ribs bones.

Cutting the meat out from between the ribs on a lamb rack

To get the ribs super-clean, we use butcher’s twine.  Tie a three foot length of twine to something very solid and sturdy, either a heavy table or cabinetry.  Wrap the twine around the base of one of the bones, pull it tight, then slide it over the bone and off the end.  It will pull meat and fat and connective tissue with it and leave the bone cleaner than it ever would get by scraping with a knife.  Repeat for all the bones.

Frenching a lamb rack with a length of butcher's twine

Below you can see how effectively the twine cleans the bones.

Here you can see how clean the twine gets the bones

Now we have to remove the chine, or backbone.  I find this the hardest part.  For a proper French lamb rack, we have to remove the backbone without removing the attached ribs that we just cleaned so diligently.  Despite what you’ve heard, this can be done without a saw.

Making small, exploratory cuts with your knife, follow the feather bones down to the chine as closely as you can, exposing the ridge where the ribs meet the chine.

The feather and chine bones on a lamb rack

Exposing the chine bone on a lamb rack

Now the idea is to pop the ends of the ribs out of the chine.  I use a cleaver, but I am not cleaving through any bones; I’m simply whacking the meeting point so that the ribs are dislodged from the backbone.  Once you’ve broken through the rib-chine adhesion, you should be able to separate the two with your boning knife.  I’ve you’ve broken through some of the ribs so that you have fractured ends, that’s fine.

Here’s the lamb rack with the chine bone removed:

Lamb rack and removed chine


Along the bottom of the meat-end of the rack there might be something that looks like a thick, yellowish rubberband.  On a beef this is called the backstrap.  There is probably a lamb-specific term for it, but I’m not sure.  This absolutely has to be removed, as it is primarily elastin, a connective tissue that doesn’t break down, no matter how much heat, moisture, and acid it is exposed to.  You may have inadvertently removed it when cutting out the chine bone.

The backstrap on a lamb rack: kind of looks like a yellow rubber band

Remove the rib membrane.  The ribs should still be attached to the meat along at least an inch of their length.  There is a membrane covering this section that can be removed.  This is just like removing the rib membrane on pork back ribs.

Finally all we need to do is trim back the fat cap.  This may or may not be necessary, depending on the lamb.  Ideally there will be a fat cap covering the entire section, no more than 1/8″ thick.

Here are the final French lamb racks:

French rack of lamb


Breaking the Loin Subprimal into Lamb Chops

The loin subprimal, the lumbar region of the backbone, is usually cut into lamb chops.   Lamb chops are analogous to the T-bone steaks on a side of beef.  In the picture at left, the round, white bone at the bottom of the chop is the chine bone, or backbone.  Extending up from this is a finger bone.  To the right of the finger bone is the lamb’s tenderloin, roughly one inch in diameter.  To the left is what would be the striploin on a beef.

As always when working with lamb, we start by removing the fell.

Next we want to separate the central loin muscles from the less desirable side meat.  We landmark the separation by looking at the cross-section of the loin, as seen below.

Cross-section of the loin subprimal

Remove the side meat, reserving it for trim.

Trimming the loin subprimal

Now we want to separate the loin into chops.  I cut so that each chop corresponds to one vertebra.  Since the feather bones and chine bones overlap somewhat, we’ll need to use a cleaver.

You can see the individual vertebrae clearly in the picture below.  I make a cut following the line between each vertebra all the way around the loin.

Chine bones, or vertebrae

Then a light cleave through the feather bone, and a heavier cleave to separate the vertebrae, and we have lamb chops.  You should get five or six chops from each loin.

Lamb chops


Boning the Lamb Flank

The lamb flank is a tough, fatty, skinny flap of meat.  It can be braised, but is usually ground.  All that is required to process the flank is to remove the ribs.

Lamb flank

Lamb flank with the sheet of ribs removed

Lamb Cutting: Leg

This post is about preparing a whole lamb leg for a classic roasted leg of lamb, or gigot.  This is the whole leg, straight from the animal.

A whole lamb leg

First remove the tail bone, which you can see running along the top of the leg primal.  On the forward end of the tailbone (to the left in the picture below) is the connection to the pelvis.  Since lambs are so young, you should be able to easily break this adhesion.

The exposed tailbone on a leg of lamb

The leg, tailbone removed:

Lamb leg, tailbone removed

Next remove the pelvis.  This is a complicated little bone.  Follow it as closely as you can, making small, exploratory cuts with a boning knife.

Now we can turn the leg over and remove the fell, which is a layer of skin that has dried during hanging.  The fell may want to pull some fat away with it.  Don’t let it.  We want a thin layer of fat on the leg to protect it in the oven.

Pulling the fell, a layer of skin, from the lamb leg

Trim away the sirloin and the adjacent pocket of fat.  The sirloin is a great cut, but with the tailbone and pelvis removed, it’s an exposed flap of meat that will cook much quicker than the rest of the leg.  The pocket of fat is obviously too fatty to be roasted, plus it contains some glands, which should always be removed from meat.

Removing the sirloin flap and some of the fatty tissue from the groin

Finally we clean up the shank bone.  This is strictly for presentation purposes.  Save the trim for grinding.

The cleaned leg of lamb


At this point the leg contains only two bones: the leg bone (femur) and the shank.  If you wish, you can very easily removed them and divide the leg into boneless roasts.  As young lambs are so fatty, I always save lean trim from the hind leg to balance out my ground meat mixture.


Lamb Cutting: Breaking a Lamb into Primals

This is a whole lamb from Tangle Ridge Ranch.  Notice that, unlike pork and beef, the lamb has not been cut in two down the spine.  The carcass is easy to handle (typically 40-60 lbs, maybe a bit smaller for grass-finished varieties like Tangle Ridge).  It’s traditionally broken into four primals:

  • front,
  • leg,
  • loin, and
  • flank.

A whole lamb from Tangle Ridge Ranch


Removing the front.  The first primal to be removed is the front, which is separated from the rest of the animal by cutting between the sixth and seventh ribs.  You can count the ribs by putting your hand inside the cavity.  Slide a knife between the sixth and seventh ribs and cut all the way up to the backbone, and all the way down to the sternum, which the knife should easily break through.  Use a handsaw to cut through the backbone.

The front is separated by cutting between the sixth and seventh rib

The front, removed


Dividing the front.  Since I have my handsaw out, I usually divide the front into two halves along the spine right away.  First I remove the neck, which on sheep is called the scrag.

Lamb front, scrag removed

Then turn the front over to expose the sternum, or breast, of the lamb.  Use the handsaw to break through the cartilage and open up the chest cavity.

Sawing through the sternum

Saw along the centre of the backbone to divide the front in two.

The lamb front, divided in two
Removing the legs.  Next the legs are separated from the body.  They are usually removed so that the entire pelvis and adjacent sirloin are left on the legs.  There are two ways to landmark this cut.  You can feel along the outside of the hip to find where the pelvis ends, or you can look within the cavity and cut between the last and second last lumbar vertebrae.

The loin, flank, and legs, still attached
Cutting before the pelvis to separate the legs
The legs, separated from the loins and flanks

Dividing the legs.  Again, since I have the saw out, I separate the two legs.  Turn the legs over to expose the underside.  Saw through the lower end of the pelvis.

The underside of the hind legs of a lamb
Cutting through the bottom part of the pelvis

Now pull the legs apart and saw along the centre of the back bone.

The two lamb legs, separated

Dividing the saddle.  We are now left with the middle portion of the lamb, sometimes called the saddle.  At the top, on either side of the backbone, are the loins.  Below them, towards the belly, are the flanks.

The middle of the lamb, the loins and flanks

First we divide the saddle in two by turning it over and sawing along the centre of the backbone.  Be precise, as this is where the prime cuts, the rack and chops, will come from.

Turning the saddle over to expose the spine
The two loin-flanks, separated

Separating the loin and flank.  Now we can separate the flanks from the loins.  The separation point is determined by how long you want the bones on your rack of lamb to be.  I make a cut parallel to the backbone four to six inches down the ribs.  Break through the ribs with the hand saw, and finish the cut with your knife.

The loin-flank
The flank and loin, separated

That’s it, for now.  Our lamb has yielded the following:

  • the two halves of the front primal,
  • a scrag,
  • two hing legs,
  • two loins, and
  • two flanks.

Future posts will describe how to trim these into the familiar ready-to-cook cuts of lamb.

Lamb Chops

Raw lamb chopThis is as casual as lamb gets at my house.  Typically, serving lamb is an event.  Lamb chops are probably the only cut that we would casually remove from the freezer the day we plan to cook it, then grill it briefly for a private dinner.

Lambs can be cut however you want, but typically the loin is divided into two sections.  The thoracic section, containing the ribs, is usually formed into a rack of lamb.  The lumbar section, which has no ribs, makes lamb chops.  Lamb chops are analogous to the T-bone steaks on a side of beef.  In the picture at left, the round, white bone at the bottom of the chop is the chine bone, or backbone.  Extending up from this is a finger bone.  To the right of the finger bone is the lamb’s tenderloin, roughly one inch in diameter.  To the left is what would be the striploin on a beef.

On the outer edge of the strip is a fat cap.  Since the meat is cooked quickly over high heat, the fat has to be trimmed down to 1/8″ at the most.

Like most lamb that will be roasted, I like to rub it down with garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper, and let it sit for at least a few hours.

Grill or pan-fry to mid rare.

Lamb chop with warm barley and spinach:

Lamb chop with barley salad

Lamb chop with tzatzkiki, horiatiki, and bread.

Grilled Lamb Chop, yogurt, Greek salad

Roast Lamb Leg

The first cut of our Tangle Ridge Ranch lamb that we cooked was a whole leg roast.

There is nothing quite like roasting large joints of meat and carving them tableside.  A bit of pageantry with dinner.

A down and dirty recipe:

Roast Lamb Leg

  • 1 whole lamb leg
  • garlic, minced
  • thyme, minced
  • rosemary, minced
  • kosher salt
  • coarse ground black pepper
  1. Trim the leg: remove the fell, clean the meat from the shank bone, and trim back the fat to an even, thin (1/8″) layer.  For detailed instructions on trimming up a whole lamb leg to make a roast, see this post.
  2. Score the fat in a diamond pattern, with about 1″ between each slice.
  3. Rub the leg with the herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Put the lamb on a wire rack on a sheet pan or roasting tray and let stand in the fridge for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.
  4. Roast the leg at 450°F until the outside is crusty but the inside is still pink, maybe 45 minutes.  A temperature probe should read about 125°F when you pull the leg.  As the lamb is fatty, and the oven at such a high temperature, the roasting is a pretty smoky affair.  Actually we set the smoke alarm off a few times while cooking.  (We joked about calling this preparation “Five Alarm Lamb Leg”…)  But, if you want a crust with great colour and flavour, it’s a necessary evil.

This is fantastic lamb, with a surprisingly delicate flavour.  Some photos, courtesy of Kevin Kossowan:

Lamb leg straight from the ovenClose up of the herbed lamb legLamb leg ready for carving

Lamb Leg Calculation

Weight of Whole Leg x Bone Ratio x Salt Ratio = Salt

Bone Ratio: 0.8

Salt Ratio: 0.015

Example Recipe

  • 2190 g lamb leg
  • 26 g kosher salt
  • 25 g garlic confit
  • 7 g herbs
  • black pepper

The Economics of Buying Whole Lambs

A whole lamb carcass, ready for cuttingIf you’re unfamiliar with Tangle Ridge Ranch and their pastured lambs, here’s some information to digest:

Last week Tangle Ridge killed this year’s lambs, and Lisa and I were fortunate enough to get a whole, uncut carcass.  My primary motivation was securing lamb meat and offal for this January’s Burns supper.  Here’s some details on the purchase.

The Numbers

Compared to most other meats, lamb is expensive.  My side of pork this year was $2.15/lb for a 110 lb side.  This whole, uncut lamb was $5.85/lb for a 50 lb carcass.  The cut and wrapped lambs sell for $7.50/lb.

Yes, compared to pork this lamb is expensive.  But compared to supermarket lamb, Tangle Ridge is a steal.

I weighed every piece of meat that I got from my lamb to see what those final cuts would cost when purchased from retailers.  In the spreadsheet below, the weights are what I got from my animal.  The costs are for an identical cut, as sold at local retailers, mostly Sunterra Market in Lendrum, which carries a lot more lamb than most grocery stores.

There are a few cuts (flank, neck, and the “fatty trim” that I rendered out for cooking fat) that are not available in grocery stores.  These represent small portions of the carcass, and are estimated at very low prices, so are a correspondingly small source of error.

Buying whole lambs: cost breakdown
If I purchased all the cuts of lamb that are now in my freezer from a grocery store, it would have cost about $8.26/lb, instead of $5.85.

I can’t wait to tuck into this lamb.  I’ll be posting about some of the preparations over the next few months.