is meat from sheep less than 1 year old. Most are brought
to market at about 6 to 8 months old.
Lamb is usually tender
because it is from animals less than 1 year old. However,
look for good marbling (white flecks of fat within the
meat muscle), and meat that is fine textured and firm. In
color, the meat should be pink and the fat should be firm,
white, and not too thick.
There are five basic
major (primal) cuts into which lamb is separated:
shoulder, rack, shank/breast, loin, and leg.
The "rack" is
the unsplit primal rib (sometimes called the hotel rack)
of the carcass which includes ribs 6 through 12. The rack
is split to make two primal lamb rib roasts. A "lamb
crown roast" is made by sewing two rib roasts
together to form a circle or crown.
Chops can come from
various primal cuts. "Loin" chops and
"rib" chops are the most tender. Less expensive
"blade" and "arm" chops (from the
shoulder) and "sirloin" chops (from the leg) can
be just as tender, but they are not as visually attractive
because the meat is separated by bands of connective
The fell is the thin,
paper-like covering on the outer fat. It should not be
removed from roasts and legs because it helps these cuts
retain their shape and juiciness during cooking. The fell
has usually been removed at the market from smaller cuts,
such as chops.
Lamb as red meat
Oxygen is delivered to
muscles by the red cells in the blood. One of the proteins
in meat, myoglobin, holds the oxygen in the muscle. The
amount of myoglobin in animal muscles determines the color
of meat. Lamb is called a "red" meat because it
contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. Other
"red" meats are beef, veal, and pork.
How to Handle Lamb Safely
Select lamb just before
checking out at the register. Put packages of raw lamb in
disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any
leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or
produce. Lamb is kept cold during store distribution to
retard the growth of bacteria.
Take lamb home
immediately and refrigerate it at 40°F for use within 3
to 5 days, or freeze (0 °F). If kept frozen continuously,
it will be safe indefinitely.
It is safe to freeze lamb
in its original packaging or repackage it. However, for
long-term freezing, overwrap the porous store plastic with
storage wraps or bags to prevent "freezer burn,"
which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is
caused by air reaching the surface of food. Cut
freezer-burned portions away either before or after
cooking the lamb. Heavily freezer-burned products may have
to be discarded for quality reasons. For best quality, use
lamb within 6 to 9 months.
take-out lamb dishes such as Kabobs, Gyros, or Chinese
food, be sure they are hot at pickup. Use cooked lamb
within 2 hours (1 hour if the air temperature is above 90
°F) or refrigerate it at 40 °F or below in shallow,
covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or
reheated to 165 °F (hot and steaming). It is safe to
freeze ready-prepared lamb dishes. For best quality, use
within 2 to 3 months.
There are three safe ways
to defrost lamb: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and
in the microwave. Never defrost on the counter or in other
locations. It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing
in the refrigerator. Ground lamb, stew meat, and steaks
may defrost within a day. Bone-in parts and whole roasts
may take 2 days or longer.
Once the raw product
defrosts, it will be safe in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days
(for roasts and chops) and 1 to 2 days for ground lamb
before cooking. During this time, if you decide not to use
the lamb, you can safely refreeze it without cooking it
To defrost lamb in cold
water, do not remove packaging. Be sure the package is
airtight or put it into a leakproof bag. Submerge the lamb
in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so that
it continues to thaw. Small packages of lamb may defrost
in an hour or less; a 3- to 4-pound roast may take 2 to 3
When microwave defrosting
lamb, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because
some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook
during microwaving. Holding partially-cooked food is not
recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have
Foods defrosted in the
microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked
before refreezing because they may potentially have been
held at temperatures above 40 °F.
It is safe to cook frozen
lamb in the oven, on the stove, or grill without
defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50%
longer. Do not cook frozen lamb in a slow cooker.