Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Lamb- #AtoZChallenge

An entire lamb, ready for the freezer.
One of the most fulfilling things a person can experience is the pride and satisfaction of having a full freezer, knowing that there are many good meals packed away for future consumption. Whether it was hunted, fished, or grown and raised at home, knowing that your family has food security is a comforting feeling. So, in honor of this fine tradition of providing food for the table, today's post is about butchery.

Therefore, L is for Lamb.

I don't have any land of my own (a fact that I bemoan often) so I cannot raise my own large livestock animals for food. This, perhaps, makes me a bit too keen sometimes, when a good deal on meat crops up (like getting fresh killed lamb for under $3/kg). When the opportunity arose for me to try my hand at cutting up a whole lamb carcass, I leaped eagerly at the chance. Understand, I had never dealt with the carcass of a large animal before. I had done rabbits and chickens, and while they are a similar process, they are small and easily handled, and NOTHING like trying to take apart a whole lamb!
The whole carcass awaits my attention

Once I had agreed to the delivery of the carcass, I did the usual, and hit Google for any information I could find on cutting up a whole lamb. I had a few days to prepare, and I really, really needed to be prepared for this. Right off the bat, I ran to my father-in-law and begged the use of his hacksaw- I knew that I didn't have anything that would let me cut through the bones. I called a friend, and borrowed her Chinese cleaver as well, and then I sharpened both my utility knife and the flexible bladed boning knife. Sharp objects aside, I also cleaned my kitchen, because who wouldn't?

When the lamb finally arrived in fine style, I kind of fussed around with cleaning it up a bit. I cut away the abdominal wall muscle, and pulled out the kidneys and the kidney fat (this is called leaf fat, and very good for cooking when rendered into tallow!) Once I'd done that, the next step I had to address was cutting it into more manageable pieces. First term of the day to learn: "Primal Cuts".

Haunches, before cutting.
The carcass of a lamb can basically be cut into three pieces, called the primal cuts. The first piece is the neck and shoulders, separated by cutting between the fourth and fifth ribs (some references said the fifth and sixth ribs. I guess it depends on preference). The second primal cut is the back/loin, which is from the fifth or sixth rib cut to another cut made at the vertebra just before the pelvis. The third cut is the remaining piece, the haunches. Once you've got those sorted, you have a much more workable arrangement. Where to next?

"Frenched" cutlets on the left, and loin chops on the right.
The whole loin, with the ribs frenched, ready to cut into
I grabbed the haunches first, because I figured they'd be the most straight forward, and they were. Using a hacksaw with a brand new blade, cut the haunches right up the center. Voila! You have now got two separate legs. With one, then the other leg, cut around the knee joint and remove the shanks. These are good for slow cooked dishes. The rest is the lamb leg roast. Now, I didn't bother with the difficult bit of deboning the leg to make a boneless roast- removing the pelvic bones is notoriously tricky, and I wasn't ready for that level of difficulty, so I just left the leg roasts whole and wrapped them as is. Next piece I grabbed was the back/loin, and as with the haunches, I sawed it in half through the spinal column. This next step was a tricky one, as this primal cut provides the cutlets and loin chops. Cutlets are the cute little chops that have the short piece of rib attached; loin chops are just the meat attached to the vertebrae, no ribs. You can also cut this section in half (ribs and no ribs) and get a rib roast, and you can cut the meat off the loin for a tenderloin effect. It's a mix and match kind of deal, but I settled on chops. First, I used the saw to cut the ribs off to make them fairly even lengths for the cutlets. Then, I used the saw to cut through the softer disc spaces to loosen the bones from each other, before I employed the cleaver to cut through the meat to get the chops. I used a technique called "Frenching" for the cutlets- all that means is I used my boning knife to cut away the meat between the ribs, to give them a cleaner look.
Lamb shoulders, waiting to be processed.
Lamb cutlets and loin chops.
With two of the three primal cuts done, I was getting pretty tired- it's a lot of hard work! I persevered though, and started on the final piece of the carcass- the shoulders. This was the hardest part. Not only did I have to cut through the entire spine, I had to saw my way through the sternum as well, which is a very awkward process. I think what I ended up doing was cutting the neck off first- this got cut up into round braising steaks and set aside. Once the rest was sawed in half, I removed the shoulders and legs off the ribs. I cut whatever excess meat I could off the ribs and spine to make mince, and then turned to the shoulders. I've done two carcasses now, and went two different ways with them- the larger carcass's shoulders were deboned and rolled into boneless shoulder roasts; the other carcass had smaller shoulders, and I botched the deboning job a bit, so I just cut the meat off the bones and cubed into stew meat. Cheap and nasty, but still delicious. Now, before deboning, you do have the option of cutting the forelimbs off at the elbows to make two more shanks for braising- that's up to you. I think it did that on one, but cut it all up for stew on the other.

Of course, I advocate using as much of the animal as you can, so many of the bones were used for making bone broth, but I did give away a lot of them to a person's dogs as a nice raw bone toy to amuse them. (Note- never give your dogs cooked bones. They can shatter when the dog is gnawing, and the pieces can cause internal injury if swallowed). Any extra meat I got off the bones was ground up into mince, and used for lamb and herb sausage patties.

Although I was exhausted, and could barely flex my hands afterward (this whole process took me about two to three hours!) I was extremely pleased with myself when I was finally able to bag up all that wonderful meat and get it into the freezer. Not only did I provide us with plenty of food for a few weeks, I learned a new skill set, and that is most valuable in its own right!

I hope you enjoyed this blog. Hang about, and see what I have in store for tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. My friend raises sheep and they currently are lambing. She's gotten several sets of triples.

    Beth Lapin


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