Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Apr

Smart Fuel: Lamb

According to the old school nursery rhyme, Mary had a little lamb, but chances are, after reading the post, you’ll want one too (although, admittedly, you’ll probably not be using your lamb for the soul purpose of causing a brouhaha on the playground)!

Although lamb has many redeeming qualities (which we’ll touch on below), if you only had one reason to rationalize serving this oft-overlooked meat at your next meal, let it be this: It isn’t chicken, beef or fish. Think we’re kidding? Consider this: If you do a Google search for chicken recipes, you’ll receive approximately 2,430,000 search options. A search for beef or fish? 1,130,000 and 824,000 hits, respectively. A search for lamb? 394,000 (although admittedly, there is an entire website called lambrecipes.com!)

Lovin’ Lamb:

But why choose lamb? Nutritionally speaking, lamb is an excellent source of a nutritionally complete protein, meaning that it contains all 8 essential amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals. Specifically, lamb is an excellent source of several B vitamins, niacin, zinc, and as with all red meats, is an excellent source of iron. In addition, lamb is one of the richest sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a compound manufactured naturally in the stomachs of cows and sheep (but not humans) that is thought to spur antioxidant activity and may also have anti-cancer properties. Still leaning towards regular old beef? Consider this: When compared to other meats, lamb contains very little fat in the grain of the meat, with what fat there is generally located on the outside edges of the meat where it can easily be trimmed away without compromising flavor or tenderness. We’re not anti-fat, but at least here you have a choice to match your own preferences.

In terms of taste, lamb is relatively mild and is generally used as a vehicle for spices, marinades or simply as an accompaniment to more strongly flavored dishes. As the lamb matures and becomes mutton (a sheep aged 1 year or older) it has a stronger taste and may also have a more grainy texture. If you’re looking for something more flavorful but don’t want to go for mutton, try Yearling mutton, which is the meat from a sheep that is between 1 and 2 years of age and has a flavor somewhere in between that of lamb and mutton.

Now let’s talk prices: Given that veal (young beef) is more expensive than regular old beef, it would make sense that lamb is pretty expensive too, right? Well, no. In actuality, lamb and beef, for the most part, are pretty evenly matched in terms of price.

Store Bought:

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably considering giving lamb a try. Good for you…now let’s hit the store! When purchasing lamb, look for pink meat with white fat. If the meat is a brighter shade of red or has yellow fat, it’s indicative of a cut from an older lamb (and is therefore tougher in texture). In terms of cuts, you can opt for lamb shoulder, an economical cut that, depending on location, lends itself well to roasting; lamb ribs (rack), which are excellent for grilling or broiling; lamb loin, which is the most expensive but by far the most tender; and lamb leg, the most popular, which you can do just about anything with! You may also purchase several sub-primal cuts, including the neck, foreshank, breast/brisket, and flank, which are great for use in casseroles and stews.

Similar to other meat, poultry and fish, you can find organically, grass-fed lamb in many supermarkets. And, similar to most other meat, you will pay a bit more per pound for this option. However, as many chefs will tell you, the finer taste and texture (as well as the knowledge that your little lamb had a nice life!) is well worth it.

What’s Cookin’:

When cooking lamb, the key to keeping the meat tender and flavorful is to never overcook it. Regardless of the cut that you are cooking, lamb should always be pink on the inside when served, a fact that should be particularly observed when cooking more tender cuts such as the loin. In fact, a good rule of thumb when cooking any cut of lamb is to always treat it like a very expensive cut of beef.

In general, lamb lends itself well to dishes with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian seasonings, although to be honest, lamb can serve as a welcome substitute to just about any chicken dish! Making a salad? Try topping it off with thin strips of marinated lamb (extra credit if you can rustle up some feta and a good balsamic vinegar to really take it to the next level!) Holding a BBQ? Consider throwing a marinated, butterflied lamb loin on the barbeque. It really is that easy, and you’ll be amazed at just how good this little lamb can taste!

will hybrid, Amigurumi Kingdom, Alexandra Moss, Chewy Chua Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

More Smart Fuel

How to Eat Enough Protein

The Migraineur: Turkish Lamb

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Sir Hola i don’t read yr site everyday and sometimes not even weekly but when i do one thing always hits me about its prose and generalized content..lightness and ease of manner.
    It never reads as ‘the big iam’.
    In short its cadence is deeply aggreable..like watching a butterfly or listening to Stephan Grappelli at Monterey Jazz 95.
    If a Geordie from Newcastle and surround and adopting appropriate accenty ‘Blurdey greeat,man’
    Now i’m a Darwinian(despite 2.5 yrs in monasteries..i like quiet and reading !) but the Chesterton aphorism ‘Angels fly cos they take themselves lightly’ seems very apt when applied to you and yr website.
    Thanks muchly for being so very ‘uman and ‘light’ and not for disappearing up yr own arse.
    Thanks for not giving yourself as a example of the info you offer up.

    Very very nicely.

    Sinc. and with thanks.

    Simon (Fellows)

    simon fellows wrote on April 24th, 2008
  2. Nice post. I love lamb. I’ve been cooking with it more often, and recently bought some delicious ground lamb from Sea Breeze Farm just outside of Seattle. It made a great stew.

    However, when I was down in the Los Angeles area visiting family, I was amazed how hard it was to find grass-fed lamb, and I wasn’t at all able to find local grass-fed lamb. The stuff my parents ended up buying for Passover was from New Zealand. You’d think springtime in such an agricultural state would yield local grass-fed lamb, but it seems the combination of land prices and lower demand for lamb means this isn’t true.

    It’s important to note that just like grass-fed beef is different from grass-finished beef, the same is true of lamb. Young as the lambs are, some of them do get sent to a feedlot. Poor things.

    Food Is Love

    Huckleberry wrote on April 24th, 2008
  3. Every once in awhile I crave lamb with rosemary and lots of sea salt. Unfortunately, myself and my dog are the only members of my flock that like it.

    Costco carries australian lamb. They were giving out samples once and grass-fed was one of their selling points. I actually haven’t seen lamb in a regular grocery store.

    Crystal wrote on April 24th, 2008
  4. Love the lamb. Approximately 1x/month my wife and I have lamb (either grilled or baked) with an anti-pasta spread that we make. Wash that down with a nice red wine and you are set for a meal that you will enjoy and make you feel better tomorrow.

    As a side note, 2 years ago I had a Greek friend make me lamb that he slow cooked in clay pots. One of the best meals ever. He had me yelling “opa, opa” and smashing plates.

    primalman wrote on April 24th, 2008
  5. Martin’s (an upscale chain owned by Giant’s in the Eastern US) carries both Australian and US-raised lamb. The Aussie stuff is labeled “grass-fed,” but that does not guarantee it is grass-finished. At our local Virginia farmers’ market is a vendor who sells her own meats, including lamb. Her lamb is pastured but also gets supplementary grain feed because, according to her, customers think somewhat fatty lamb tastes better.

    I’m not a big fan of lamb. Its taste doesn’t justify the high price. Beef and chicken (except very lean breast) can stand on their own, but as the OP notes, lamb is a vehicle for spices and herbs. Legumes will do the same thing for a lot less money.

    Sonagi wrote on April 24th, 2008
    • Legumes do all that and more ;)

      Lamb in the PNW is a good value. I bought a locally raised, grass fed rib roast the other day for $10.99 a pound.

      I cannot buy a grass fed beef rib roast for that.

      Kenny wrote on June 25th, 2011
  6. I always thought mutton was goat.

    Is goat healthy? i skimmed google and saw even less recipes on goat.

    Alida wrote on April 25th, 2008
    • Mutton is older lamb or goat, usually more flavoursome but can also be tougher. Its harder to come by (at least in Aus, where lamb is king). Goat btw is a bit leaner and gamier, so the risk of toughness is higher, but is otherwise similar to lamb IMO.

      Matt wrote on May 8th, 2013
  7. Simon,

    Thanks for the kudos. As for disappearing up me arse, I try not to…but be forewarned that I may soon have to respond to a plethora of emails asking me about my own program and diet – with pictures. More recently, reader Barry called me out on my carb position, in which case a picture is worth a thousand words. I think I know where you’re coming from on that (AD), so I’ll be sensitive.

    I see your insightful commenting and questioning all throughout the blogosphere. Keep up the good work.

    Mark Sisson wrote on April 25th, 2008
  8. Lamb has long been my favorite meat. I find beef and chicken less flavorful by comparison. Furthermore, I have much less trouble finding grass-fed lamb than grass-fed beef and the price difference is usually less than that for beef.

    Goat may or may not be as healthy, but it does have a similar taste to lamb.

    Pink wrote on April 28th, 2008
  9. Lamb actually has flavour (unlike beef), and it’s never tough. It also has plenty of delicious, accessible fat, which makes it my meat of choice (most beef I am able to buy is likely to be too lean for my purposes. And I seem to react badly to pork fat.)

    Eric wrote on December 4th, 2009
  10. Just found your website and I love it.
    I was raised on lamb and the best way to cook it is a slow roast and then top it off with homemade mint sauce.

    Breeze wrote on March 20th, 2010
  11. Good article. As far as “red meat” goes, I’ll take lamb anyday over beef. I am a culinary arts instructor and was perusing the web for info about health advantages of lamb over beef and stumbled upon your article. Another site said they are basically the same, but depended on the preparation style. And you are right, lamb has a bit less internal or marbled fat than beef, but I offer another reason why lamb is healthier. Since we Americans are “sheep”, we are afraid to eat it, generally speaking. We eat what is offered to us. How many fast food joints are offering a “lamburger”? The demand for the beef is so off the charts producers have to resort the scary science in order to get them to maturity faster, not to mention their quality of life while on death row. If you haven’t seen Food Inc. yet, give it a look, if you dare. I envision lamb being raised in spacious green pastures with ample room to roam, a stark contrast to the life of a cow. I know that that may not be the case for all lamb being sold for production, but I’d like to think that. Thanks again for a great article! Jim

    James Eaton wrote on February 14th, 2011
  12. By the way, the best lamb I’ve had was prepared by my wife’s grandfather, a former butcher. My wife is Italian, BTW, the whole family is full of foodies, it’s awesome! Every Easter he buys a spring lamb, purges it for a couple of days before the slaughter, and fabricates every morsel of it. I haven’t been privy to it, but I understand the young lamb’s liver is out of this world! He essentially roasts it with garlic, olive oil, and rosemary, pure simple and very delicious!

    James Eaton wrote on February 14th, 2011
  13. Don’t forget to save the fat that comes from a lamb roast… think vegetables oven-roasted in lamb fat while the roast is resting. Years ago I did it with potatoes (which were arguably the best I have ever made), but I am sure other more primal-friendly vegetation would substitue nicely : )

    Jonathan wrote on March 7th, 2011
  14. I must say, coming from New Zealand it is hard to get away from lamb.

    My absolute favourite food is a leg of roast lamb with rosemary and garlic, served with roast vegetables (onions, garlic cloves, pumpkin, carrot, parnsip, kumara (that’s sweet potato to you) and so on…) and gravy. Nothing better in the world, and goes great with red wine or a dark beer!

    Kieran wrote on April 15th, 2011
    • Roast it with onion, garlic, lavender, celery, carrot and white wine for a twist on the traditional red wine and rosemary.

      Matt wrote on May 8th, 2013
  15. Thank you for pointing out the highlights of lamb! I’ve been trying to convinve my friends to eat it for years because it is extraordinary in both taste and health benefits. And as a side note: you’ve never had good lamb until a traditionally greek family has cooked it for you. That is to die for.

    Anastasia wrote on August 24th, 2012
  16. *convince

    Anastasia wrote on August 24th, 2012

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