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Lamb1Most lambs are slaughtered when they are between three and twelve months old. The term 'mutton' is usually applied to the flesh of sheep at least eighteen months to two years old. Lamb is delicately flavoured meat, and a rich source of iron and other important minerals, it is rich in vitamins, especially those of the B complex, essential for the release of energy from all foods and for the general health of skin and nerve tissue.

The British eat far more lamb then most other nations, though less than the Australians and New Zealanders. About 40 per cent of the lamb eaten in Britain is home-produced, the remainder comes chiefly from Australia and New Zealand. By law a butcher must label all his meat with the country of origin.

The number of lambs slaughtered in Britain reaches a peak in October and drops to its lowest just before the spring. Since the seasons in Australia and New Zealand are the opposite of Britain's, a constant flow of lamb supplies is maintained. Most imported New Zealand lamb is four months old.

British lamb varies in colour according to the age and breed of the animal. Meat from a young lamb is usually pale pink, red meat comes from an older animal. But some breeds, hill lambs for example, have a deep colour even when young. The fat should be creamy-white, not oily or yellow - a yellowish tinge shows excessive age.

All imported and some home-produced lamb is frozen. Frozen meat has a less delicate flavour than fresh and it looks different, the lean is paler and does not have the bloom of fresh meat, while the fat is whiter and crumbles more easily - if the fat looks very brittle it is a sign that the lamb has been frozen for a long time, it will generally shrink during cooking and have a bland taste.

A joint of lamb should have a good depth of lean meat covered by a moderate layer of fat. The skin should be pliable to the touch, not hard or wrinkled. Legs and shoulder joints should have a plump, not fat appearance. A blue tinge in the knuckle and rib bones indicates that the animal is young.

Although the choicest cuts of lamb for roasting, grilling and frying comes from the loin, legs and shoulders, do not ignore the cheaper cuts. Best end of neck, scrag, middle end and breast may take more time to prepare but they can be as delicious and are as nourishing as the prime, expensive cuts.

Best end of neck - A tasty and versatile cut from between the middle neck and the loin. It may be braised and is excellent as a small roast on the bone. For a whole roast, the butcher will saw through the vertebrae - the bone known as the china bone - without removing it from the joint. He will also strip off the outer thin skin.

Two best ends of neck are used to shape a crown, from which the skin and excess fat have been removed. The top of the rib bones are trimmed of meat. Most butchers will prepare a crown roast on request. Fill the hollow of the crown with a stuffing.

Guard of honour is another popular roast, shaped from two best ends and joined in such a way that the trimmed rib bones criss-cross on top. Give the butcher a few days notice to prepare either of these joints.

Breast - A very economical cut, which is usually sold boned, stuffed and rolled, for roasting or braising. As it is a fatty joint,it is not much in demand.

Chops - These individual cuts of lamb come either from the loin or the leg of the animal. They are suitable for grilling, frying or braising.

Chump Chops - These chops, 1.9 - 2.5 cm thick, are cut from between the leg and the loin. They are oval with a small central bone, and are more expensive than loin chops because each leg of the animal gives only two chops.

Loin Chops - Cut from the loin, about 2.5 cm thick, they have a small T-shaped bone.They should be fairly lean with a thin layer of fat on the outside edge.

Cutlets - These are taken from the best end neck, as individual cuts. They have a characteristic long bone, a thin layer of fat and a small round eye of sweet lean meat. Suitable for grilling and frying, allow two cutlets per person. French lamb cutlets are also from the best end, the only difference being the method of preparation. On French cutlets, the chins bone is removed and the rib bone is trimmed of meat and fat for 5 cm. Cutlets frills are placed on the bare rib ends after cooking.

Middle neck cutlets - These are fattier and more gristly than best end cutlets and are best stewed or braised.

Fillet - The upper part of the leg, frequently sold as a separate joint. It has lean meat, little bone and no gristle. It is suitable for roasting whole on the bone.

Knuckle - The lower part of the hind leg, usually sold as a separate, fairly expensive joint for roasting on the bone. It may also be boned, stuffed and rolled.

Leg - The most popular large roasting joint, weighing 1.8 - 2.3 kilograms. It is sold on the bone and can also be ordered boned and rolled. The leg, being so large, is often divided into two joints, knuckle and fillet. Whole leg of lamb is suitable for roasting, braising and boiling. Lamb steaks are cut from boned leg.

In Scotland, the leg is known as gigot, it includes the chump end of the loin. It is usually divided into three portions, chump, centre and knuckle.

Loin - This prime joint is usually sold on the bone for roasting whole. A complete loin weighs about 1.8 kilograms, but it is also sole in smaller portions. It has a thin even layer of fat just below the skin. Ask the butcher to saw through the china bone for easier carving. The loin can also be ordered boned, then stuffed with the chopped kidneys and rolled to make a good roast for a small number of people.

Middle neck - Comes from between the best end of neck and the scrag, it is sometimes sold in one piece including the scrag. It has a large proportion of bone fat to meat and is best used for stews, boned, it may also be sliced and fried.

Noisettes - These are small round and thick slices cut from the loin or best end. They are boned, trimmed of fat and shaped and tied into round fillets, each weighing about 175 grams. The butcher requires notice to prepare noisettes, or they can easily be shaped at home. They are suitable for grilling or frying.

Rib - The complete rib section is seldom sold whole, but cut into three portions, best end of neck, middle neck and scrag.

Saddle - A large prime joint comprising both loins and cut from the best end to the legs, with the tail left on. The butcher requires a few days' notice to dress a saddle. The meat is skinned and the cleaned kidneys are skewered and tied to the end of the loins, with the slit tail wrapped around then. A saddle weighs about 3.6 kilograms and makes an ideal, if expensive, large roast.

Scrag end of neck - This cut nearest the head contains much bone and gristle. It is sold already chopped and used for stews and soups and broths.

Shoulder - A roasting joint from the for-quarter, usually weighs 1.6 - 1.8 kilograms. It is the least expensive of the roasting joints, fattier than the leg, but with a sweeter flavour. The shoulder is more difficult to carve than the leg and is therefore often boned and rolled.

In Scotland, a shoulder is cut as a larger joint, to include part of the neck and the breast. It is then divided into two or three joints and often boned, stuffed and rolled for roasting.

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