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!)

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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22 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Lamb”

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  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 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)

  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

  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.

  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.

  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.

    1. 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.

  6. I always thought mutton was goat.

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

    1. 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.)

  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.

  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

    1. Yes, Jim, That’s how our lambs are living at Hoku Nui Maui, on 260 glorious acres, and I am so excited to read this article on lambs, and have already been sharing it exuberantly with my friend/co-worker, Bena!

      We are so happy to have lambs. At first, when asked to wrap the freshly-butchered 160 lbs. of fresh lamb, from 4 ram lambs who were over a year old, I was shy to embark as I love meat, but thought babies were not really a great thing for me to eat. And then, Matty, our chef took all that meat and made loins, chops, & lamburgers, and Leilani, our cattle man’s wife made lamb stew, and for an hour I ate every one of those tasty, amazingly delicious items in succession, & nothing else, savoring every baby bite!

      Oh, yes, Lambs grown on beautiful green pasture they are very happy and very very tasty. We were all shocked at how good it was, like the tenderest most beautiful flavor of beef, because we’d heard it would be not-so-good given they were older rams.

      Soon, I will be blessed to share our Hoku Nui online buying club for local Maui, and Farm Market here in Makawao, on Piiholo Road, so come visit us, and enjoy meat grown in love, from animals living in harmony with and as Nature.

      It is so beautiful, and the blessing that comes from putting the soil first. All our animals move in rotation to build rich soil, healthy grasses and to eliminate our need for outside inputs over time, as we improve the quality and variety of grasses.

      Regenerative Design here has been guided with great fun and lots of learning by: Polyface Farms’ Daniel & Sheri Salatin, and Regrarians Darren J. Doherty, and Lisa Heenan, and we are so grateful to be part of a growing world of health, and real well being. Aloha, Love, Claire

      1. I forgot to mention this was our very first time ever eating our own lamb, since we began designing this project 2.5 years ago, so it was a BIG DEAL!

  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!

  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 : )

  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!

    1. Roast it with onion, garlic, lavender, celery, carrot and white wine for a twist on the traditional red wine and rosemary.

  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.

  16. I love lamb, and wondering if anyone has thoughts about daily consumption -is it harmful for my health in any way if I eat lamb as my primary source of protein every day?