Respecting the Lamb

Hello, food blog friends!  This is me, taking a break from politics-land to be excited about lamb, but also to say that I really do love you and have not been deliberately neglecting you all week.

Actually, I attempted to cook two different recipes this week especially for the purpose of writing them up on this blog.  Did they work?  No, they did not.  They were, in fact, somewhat disastrous.  So you miss out this time, because I’m a little bit too tired to write up my dire failures in amusing style just now.

Never mind.  I’m really here to be all excited at you about my order from Koallah Farm today.  Vegetarians may want to skip this one, because this post is all about lamb.

I’m a rather mixed-feelings fan of the whole nose-to-tail principle of cooking.  On the one hand, I do think that it’s the most ethical way to eat meat, because it uses the whole animal rather than just the bits that people like best – chickens, after all, have wings and legs as well as breasts, lambs have forelegs as well as hind legs, and so on.  If an animal is going to die so that I can have something tasty for dinner, I’d better respect that enough to use all that I can of the animal, and not throw it away.

On the other hand, I really hate offal.  And yes, I’ve tried it – my Nonna was Italian, and from a poor part of Italy, so you ate everything you could and you didn’t leave food on your plate.  Even if it was liver.  Or brains.  Actually, it’s possible I decided that brains were disgusting enough that I was willing to be punished for not eating them, but you get the idea.  My parents agreed with this, and in theory, so do I.

But I really, really hate offal.  I’m sort of glad that it’s developing gourmet cred at the moment, because this solves my problems – I can’t afford to eat out at the sort of places that would serve it, and people who can are eating the bits of the beast that I don’t want.

Anyway.  My limited nose-to-tail thing has primarily been about chicken, so far.   A household of two can use a whole chicken fairly readily, even if one of them is fussy about bones and meat that looks like meat.  I can use the breasts baked under yoghurt, the chicken in curries, or the whole lot in the slow cooker.  I can pick the meat off a poached chicken and make pies.  And I can use the carcase to make litres of chicken stock to flavour other meals.  At that point, I figure I’ve given the chicken a fair go, and if I don’t pull out the tiny livers to collect and use in pâté or the like, that’s OK.  Though one day I really should do that, actually.

But Koallah farm will actually sell you a whole cow.  Or half a cow.  Or a whole or half lamb.  Not as one giant carcase, because that really would be insane, but divided into cuts and vaccuum packed.

Even without the Whole Carcase factor, this is a fairly intimidating prospect, both in terms of sheer volume (we don’t have a chest freezer) and in terms of what would you do with all that meat.  I mean, I have been trying to work my way around the animal, in what I order, but there are some cuts I’ve never tried, and some that I just don’t like very much.  It’s all a bit overwhelming.

Until recently, it hasn’t been worth considering.

But last week, they put their half lamb on special.  And by a coincidence, my freezer is actually fairly empty at the moment, after being cleared out for the purposes of making lolly cake.  I enquired, and was informed by the person I spoke to on the phone that yes, half a lamb could fit into a standard freezer – in fact, it would be packed into a box about the size of one used for A4 paper.

OK then.

They don’t just send you half a lamb cut any which-way, however.  When you order something like this, you are sent a ‘cut sheet’, which provides several options for each of the parts of the lamb.  The leg, for example, could be a whole leg roast, an easy carve roast, two half roasts, or a butterflied roast.  The shoulder could be rolled and boned, or a forequarter roast, or cut into chops.  The ribs could be cutlets or a lamb rack or half and half, and so forth.

It was actually really fascinating to realise where the different cuts come from, and which kinds of chops relate to which kind of roasts or other meats.  For a few cuts, you don’t get a choice – everyone gets one lamb shank, one lamb flap, and three neck chops (which, actually, I didn’t get, but I’m not going to bother following that up, as neck chops are the one cut of lamb that I’ve tried and really disliked.  If the package hadn’t been ‘here, have half a lamb’, I’d have requested they omit the neck chops anyway).

For those who are curious, my package, once unpacked, looked like this:


Yes, I did get out a chart showing where all the cuts came from and matched them up.  I’m sorry if people find that gruesome – I sort of do, but mostly I find it absolutely fascinating, and I’m hoping I’m not the only one who will think that way.

As you can see, I avoided getting chops, because Andrew won’t eat them anyway, and got the rolled shoulder, cutlets, backstrap, rump, and two half lamb legs.  This seemed the most practical option.  Everything is vaccuum packed, so while I’ve frozen most of it, I’ve kept a few sections in the fridge for meals in the next week or two.

It’s a lot less intimidating than I expected, to be honest.  Looking at what I’ve got, the only thing I’m really flummoxed by is the lamb flap – I’ve never cooked with it, and don’t really know where I’d start (hello, internet!).  The lone shank is clearly my cue to make that amazing pasta bake with everything in it again, the roasts I can marinade with Indian spices, or slow cook, or stuff, the cutlets I haven’t decided about, but I have many, many ideas, and the backstrap will be lovely in a salad, now that the weather is warming up.  The rump I’ll have to remind myself about, because it’s been a while since I used it.

Altogether, though, I’m rather looking forward to it.  I think you can expect a few lamb recipes to show up on this blog in the near future, especially for the weirder cuts, as I can’t be the only person out there wondering what on earth one does with a lamb flap.

If you are into ethical eating and you get the opportunity, I really do recommend trying something like this, to be honest.  It’s a real education in where my meat comes from, and it will be interesting comparing the way the different cuts cook.

Also, Koallah doesn’t even offer the offal, so I don’t have to grapple with the ethical question of whether I should accept it and attempt to make it into something I can stomach. This is a win all the way round, if you ask me!


Two years ago: Primary Colour Marble Cake

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2 comments for “Respecting the Lamb

  1. Iestyn
    August 31, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    I may be a little unusual here, but the shank, kidneys, liver and heart are the only bits of lamb I bother with. Mind you, the whole “no mint” thing certainly doesn’t help.

    • Catherine
      August 31, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Well, you can have my share, then! I don’t actually tend to use mint with lamb – rosemary and garlic are my default, or I do things with dates and almonds and coriander, or lemon and oregano, or orange and port…

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