American lamb moving from pasture to plate

Theos family

Four generations of the Theos family raise sheep on their northwest Colorado ranch. Angelo Theos, center, sells the pasture-raised lambs to Whole Foods Market./Photo courtesy of Angelo Theos.

Like most Americans, Marjorie Meeks-Bradley did not grow up eating lamb. Although her mother was an early proponent of the Slow Food movement and cooked from Alice Waters’ cookbooks, Meeks-Bradley, a northern California native, says that this mostly pasture-raised meat just wasn’t in the picture—or on the plate.

“It always seemed a little exotic,” says the 28-year-old Meeks-Bradley, a chef. But she has embraced it after working at Zaytinya, a restaurant in Washington, D.C., that serves Mediterranean small plates, many of which feature lamb. Now the executive chef at Ripple, also in D.C., she serves dishes from lamb ragù to lamb tartare—finely diced raw lamb that she seasons with juniper berries and mustard seed.

“I enjoy working with it,” she says. “I especially love the leg, which is what I use to make the tartare. We sell out of it every night.”

Chef Marjorie 1

Chef Marjorie Meeks-Bradley of Ripple, in Washington, D.C., prepares a signature dish of lamb tartare. “We sell out of it every night,” she says./AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Maybe that’s because lamb is slowly coming into its own. Meeks-Bradley and other chefs in a handful of cities from D.C. to San Francisco are showcasing the meat on their menus and participating in “lamb crawls” and “lamb jams”—events sponsored by the American Lamb Board to highlight the meat’s virtues. Restaurants offer samples, chefs square off in friendly cooking competitions, and there are lamb butchery demonstrations.

But lamb has a tough road. Americans eat less than a pound of lamb per person per year, compared with 54 pounds of beef, says Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board. Forty percent have never even tried it.

This disconnect exists, Wortman says, despite the fact that many of us have roots in parts of the world in which lamb is a staple—Great Britain, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latin America, the Middle East and Spain, to name a few. The thought of Easter dinner without lamb is, for many, as inconceivable as Thanksgiving without turkey.

Even so, Wortman says, many consumers are put off by lamb’s price (it is generally more expensive than beef, pork or chicken) and are intimidated by the thought of cooking it. “They aren’t familiar with everyday, less-expensive cuts such as shank or sausages or shoulder chops. It’s just not on their radar.” The board also has started a “shepherd-to-chefs” campaign that connects local lamb producers with high-profile chefs in an effort to tap the growing appetite for local and sustainable food.

Craig Rogers 1

Craig Rogers owns Border Springs Farm, in Patrick Springs, Va. He supplies lamb to chefs and restaurants and recently opened an all-lamb butcher shop in Washington, D.C./AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Craig Rogers, who owns Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, Va., is one of those shepherds. His 60-acre farm supplies grass-fed lamb to chefs like Meeks-Bradley, as well as celebrity chefs such as Bryan Voltaggio, a former “Top Chef” contestant, and Sean Brock of Charleston, S.C.’s acclaimed restaurant Husk. Every August for the past three years, Rogers has hosted Lambstock, a three-day, sometimes raucous gathering of chefs, musicians and farm-to-table aficionados. People pitch tents and pass the bourbon and the fire never goes out.

“This is all part of a larger movement in agriculture toward doing things better,” Rogers says.

The history of lamb in the U.S. dates back to the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom kept flocks of sheep. In the 19th century, immigrants from Greece, Spain and elsewhere brought their sheep farming traditions with them to the western U.S. and in some cases their descendants continue the tradition.

Both of Florence Cubiburu’s grandfathers were sheepherders who came to northern California from the Basque region of Spain. Her late husband, Jean Cubiburu, also a Basque immigrant, followed a similar path. In the 1970s, Cubiburu says, the family’s ranch consisted of “22,000 sheep, 1,000 cattle and three great kids.”

Today, the kids are grown, and the sheep operation is much smaller— just 3,500 head. The downsizing, Cubiburu says, is the result of a changing market, encroaching development and restrictions on commercial sheep grazing on public land.

“It’s just not feasible to run the sheep numbers that we used to run,” she says.

During the industry’s height in the 1940s and 50s, some 55 million sheep grazed on U.S. grasses. Most of them were raised not for their meat, but for their wool. As synthetic fabrics took over, those numbers dropped, until by 2012 only about 5.3 million sheep remained, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sheep in Zeek Draw (2)

Sheep from Angelo Theos’s Swallow Fork Ranch, in northwest Colorado, graze in wooded pastures./Photo courtesy of Angelo Theos

“We lost a lot of producers,” says Angelo Theos, a third-generation Colorado sheep rancher whose grandfather came from Greece. Add to that a perception of lamb as strong-flavored and gamy, which dates back to World War II, when soldiers were fed government-issued canned mutton (adult sheep). Competition from Australia and New Zealand, which account for 50 percent of lamb consumption in the U.S., has also taken its toll.

To survive, savvy shepherds like Theos and Cubiburu have tried to capitalize on America’s growing food consciousness. Both have begun selling directly to high-end retailers, chefs and consumers. Theos grazes his lambs on forage and sells all of them —about 2,400 a year—to Whole Foods Market. Cubiburu sells to both Whole Foods and Niman Ranch, a national distributor of high-quality meat.

The process is “pretty labor-intensive,” says Cubiburu, who has to weigh each lamb and ensure it meets leanness criteria. “My father and grandfather would never have thought of doing it this way, but it works for us.” For her trouble, she gets 30 to 40 cents more per pound than she did when she sold her lambs to a meat processor.

In spite of the challenges, many ranchers and farmers remain optimistic. The number of small producers is actually on the rise, with many now keeping “farm flocks” of a few dozen to a few hundred sheep. In eastern states such as Tennessee, some farmers have replaced tobacco with sheep. And demand from chefs and new immigrants from lamb-centric cultures is changing the face of the business.

“We’re definitely seeing a growing interest and a growing demand for grass-fed lamb,” says Reyes Moss, a sixth-generation Tennessee farmer who keeps a flock of about 200 ewes. “The local food movement is more in vogue than it ever has been, and I believe that is going to increase consumption.”

lamb cuts 2

The American Lamb Board is hoping to make the mostly pasture-raised meat more appealing to consumers by highlighting affordable cuts and by partnering with shepherds and chefs./Image courtesy of the American Lamb Board

It’s certainly what turned Craig Rogers from a semi-retired hobbyist into a shepherd. The 53-year-old former university dean initially planned to use his sheep to train border collies for competition. Somehow, he says, “six sheep turned into 600.” In the 10 years since he started Border Springs Farm, the flock has grown to 2,200.

In November, Rogers opened what he believes is the country’s first all-lamb butcher shop, in Washington, D.C.’s Union Market, a collection of high-end food retailers. A second shop is scheduled to open this week at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. His goal: to make lamb less-intimidating.

“We sell link sausages and lamb hot dogs,” Rogers says. “We tell customers that the only thing they need to cook lamb is olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook it to 135 degrees and it will always be perfect.”

For Tennessee farmer Moss, the moment of truth came when he started serving lamb to his father, who well remembered the government’s canned mutton drive. Says Moss: “He pushed back from the table and said, ‘That’s better than beef, isn’t it?’”

 

Lamb links:

 

Makes 8 servings

Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Minted Orzo

Butterflied leg of lamb means a fast-cooking piece of meat that is well seasoned in all the nooks and crannies. Olives and mint in the orzo give this recipe, adapted from the American Lamb Board, a Mediterranean flair.

Ingredients

  • For the lamb:
  • 1 boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper

  • For the orzo:
  • 16 ounces (2 cups) orzo pasta, cooked according to package instructions
  • 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

In a bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary, oregano, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Rub generously over the lamb leg. Place the lamb in a glass dish and cover, or seal in a zip-lock bag. Marinate in the refrigerator 4 to 24 hours.

Remove lamb from the marinade, scraping off excess solids. Run several skewers through the meat to make it easy to handle. Heat the grill to medium-high and cook lamb until medium-rare, about 8 to 9 minutes per side. Remove lamb from heat. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a bowl, toss the orzo with feta, olives, red pepper, oil, mint, pepper and salt. Slice meat thinly against the grain; serve with orzo.

This recipe requires 4 to 24 hours of marinating.

Makes 6 servings

Ground Lamb Kebabs with Dried Fruit-Mint Quinoa

The coolness of mint makes a perfect complement to the rich flavor of lamb. Pairing it with dried fruit in the quinoa adds a touch of sweetness. This recipe is adapted from the American Lamb Board.

Ingredients

  • For the kebabs:
  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 skewers (metal or wooden soaked in water)

  • For the quinoa:
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots (about 6 apricots)
  • 1/3 cup chopped medjool dates (about 3 large dates, pits removed)
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

For the kebabs:

In a large bowl, combine the lamb, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Mix until well incorporated. Form into 24 oblong patties, about 2 inches long. Thread 2 patties onto each skewer.

For the quinoa:

In a 4-quart saucepan, add quinoa and rinse with cold water 3 times, changing water each time.

After the third rinsing, add 3 cups of water to the quinoa. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and let cook, about 12 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill skewers until just cooked through, 2 minutes per side (meat will be pink on the inside). (Skewers can also be cooked under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes until medium-rare.) Remove from heat; rest for 3 minutes.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork. Toss with apricots, dates, mint, cilantro, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve with skewers.

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38 Responses to American lamb moving from pasture to plate

  1. Profile photo of Michelle Capobianco
    Michelle Capobianco March 27, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Wonderful article about a protein that is under-utilized and under-appreciated in the US (and even somewhat unknown – when I told my best friend that we’re serving lamb at my son’s Communion party, I was shocked when she told me she had never tried it!). You are correct in stating that it would not be Easter without roasted lamb on the Italian table. Every year, my father buys a baby lamb (although not at young as the swoon-worthy abbacchio Romano which marks springtime in Rome) from a Greek butcher in Astoria, Queens that specializes in the meat. For Easter, my Greek friends roast their lamb on a spit right in their backyards, but we marinate ours in abundant olive oil, garlic and rosemary (no salt as it makes the meat less tender – we add salt when it goes into the oven) and roast it alongside golden potatoes. It’s my favorite Easter tradition.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

      Michelle, thanks for this comment and for sharing your Easter tradition. I know we both have roots in Abruzzo, where lamb is a staple. My great uncle Eliseo lived near Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. He would come to our house for Easter and prepare the lamb much in the same way as you describe ~ with lots of rosemary and olive oil. I think he may have used pearl onions (it’s been many years). It was delicious. Buona Pasqua!

      • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
        Michele Kayal March 28, 2013 at 7:19 am #

        Lamb is such a big part of so many Easter traditions. My grandfather was from Aleppo, Syria (my grandmother was the first of her Aleppian family to be born in the US.) We had lamb throughout the year in grape leaves, stuffed eggplant, and my favorite, in the tartare known as kibbe nayeh. But on Easter we always had the leg, variously prepared. Lately, we’ve been doing boneless, stuffed with garlic, stewed in lemon and tomato. Peas are added to the sauce at the end, and it’s served on a bed of saffron rice laced with butter-browned vermicelli. Wow. Four days till dinner and counting!

  2. Ciao Chow Linda March 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Domenica – I am always puzzled why Americans in general do not eat much lamb, but I think it is based on their ignorance of how to prepare it — or never having had really good lamb dishes. The recipes you posted look great and it’s heartening to know that more small producers are raising sheep for market. Reading Terminal is a fantastic market and I will have to get there once that producer has set up shop there. I will never forget the first time I had abbacchio alla Romana in Rome. The waiter, whose name was Romeo, swiped the menu from my hands and said he would choose my meal, declaring I’d eat “l’abbacchio più buona in tutta Roma.” And it was. We went back again and again to that restaurant but I’ve never been able to find baby lamb here. My go-to lamb recipe is a Julia Child recipe for boned and butterflied lamb. I marinate it for three or four days in olive oil, lemon peel, garlic, rosemary and soy sauce, (not much different from the recipe you posted above) then it goes on the grill for only about 15-20 minutes. Everyone I have ever served this to, if they’ve never eaten lamb, becomes a convert. Even friends who visited from Greece, where lamb is eaten as a staple, couldn’t believe the flavor. The long marinade really makes it so flavorful and tender. Buona Pasqua cara.

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal March 29, 2013 at 4:53 am #

      Linda, I have to try this. I love the idea of the lamb soaking in garlic and herbs for days…..

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 29, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Linda, believe it or not I’ve never had abbacchio. Is the restaurant in Rome still around? Your leg of lamb recipe sounds similar to the one I put in Big Night In, except you also use soy sauce, which I think is brilliant. I have a marinated flank steak recipe that is essentially Italian in flavor but in which I also put soy sauce. It seems to punch everything up a bit, doesn’t it. Lamb really is one of the easiest meats to prepare since the less you do with it the better it is. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love your input. Buona Pasqua ~ and let’s make a date to meet at Reading Terminal Market one day soon…

  3. Helen Free March 28, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Why does lamb taste sooo good in the spring, anyway? Well, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this in anticipation of our Easter g/o/rosemary “legalamb” and also thinking about how in Abruzzo the cheese shop owners often sell skeins of yarn and at Easter have vacuum packed legs of lamb that may have crossed the street in front of your car a few days before their legs were sealed. Point is that this animal gives us a whole lot of good stuff. Thank you lambs everywhere.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 29, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Yes, Helen, as a cheese lover, cook, and knitter, I absolutely agree that lambs and sheep everywhere deserve to be acknowledged. What a beautiful and gentle animal. Buona Pasqua.

  4. Laney March 28, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    It’s hard to believe that Americans eat so little lamb when it’s so wonderful! For the past few years, we’ve ordered a lamb from a Seiben Ranch in Montana-it comes butchered and packaged into different cuts, some of which I’d never tried before. We’ve had several types of chops and ribs, made lamb stew with cannellini beans, rack of lamb, burgers, roasted leg and my personal favorite of butterflied leg of lamb on the grill marinated in red wine, rosemary, garlic and mustard similar to Ciao Chow Linda’s. Buona Pasqua to all!

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal March 29, 2013 at 4:55 am #

      Laney, I’ve heard of ordering part of a cow or a pig, but never a lamb. But why not, I guess? It’s a great idea. I really prefer lamb to beef or pork. Its so rich, and it always feels like a treat. I will have to look into this (as soon as I get a bigger freezer.)

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 29, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      Butterflied leg of lamb seems to be the popular choice. I agree, it’s fantastic on the grill. As for cuts, it seems to me that producers and packagers are getting more creative about marketing, which is a good thing if it draws more interest. Last year at a butcher shop near my house, I came across a package of lamb tenderloins, which are exactly like beef or pork tenderloins only much smaller. It was my first time trying them (they were expensive) and I’m afraid I didn’t do them justice, as they cooked in about 5 seconds flat. But I’d love to try them again, maybe marinated and then just quickly seared in a pan or on the grill. Buona Pasqua and thanks for chiming in.

  5. Philip Kayal March 29, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    I grew up on Lamb….It is very Middle Eastern (Syrian and Lebanese) and is the only meat that Arabs generally eat. My mother used to say “Americans don’t like lamb; they think it has an ‘odor.’ She was right. My friends who had ‘American lamb’ thought it smelled funny. I found out why. American butches often do not take the gland out before they prepare the leg/shoulder or grind it up. The ‘Syrian’ butcher I go too always takes the gland out and thus the prepared lamb tastes sweet. Makes all the difference in the world. The Syrian/Lebanese also eat raw lamb called Kibbeh Nayah. Absolutely delicious. I have never met anyone who did not love it upon tasting it. It is a fatless cut of lamb, ground up twice and mixed with bulgur wheat, onion, water (and some time, a bit of allspice added and kneeded together. Spread out on a plate, it is sprinkled with olive oil and picked up in Syrian bread (pita) and eaten by hand. It used to be served as a meal with stuffed grape leaves, but now is served as an appetizer. see http://www.syrian-cuisine.com

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal March 30, 2013 at 6:24 am #

      I must clarify, that my uncle uses the allspice. The rest of us protest. We’re purists — onion, salt, wheat. That’s it. My mom is allowed to put a slice of onion on hers, and everyone is allowed olive oil (which makes it divine.) But that’s where it ends. Stop the madness!

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti March 30, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      Philip, I had no idea about the gland. Good to know! I lived for a number of years in Detroit and there were some great Middle Eastern restaurants that served kibbeh. I’m sorry to say that I was too cowardly to try it. I’ll have to rectify that next time I go back. Thanks for reading.

      • Profile photo of American Food Roots
        American Food Roots March 31, 2013 at 9:30 am #

        D, no need to go all the way to Detroit! I will make it for you. I’m told mine is just like my grandmother’s. Which was the bomb.

    • Joseph April 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      Yes, the allspice is the secret ingredient that really makes it “over the top” delicious. I go to a Lebanese restaurant in Paterson that makes it this way with the allspice. Simply amazing!

  6. Carol Guensburg March 31, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    Enlightening story, Domenica! I didn’t get to taste lamb until adulthood — even though, as a child, we visited our parents’ friends on their western Minnesota farm, where they raised lamb. As a knitter, I’m happy to support wool producers — and as an eater, I welcome lamb on my plate.

  7. Paul Ellis April 1, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    As a happy lamb chomping Brit, I’ve always been surprised that the US didn’t consume more lamb given the amount of pasture you had. For two American authors who often have some quite innovative lamb recipes for the grill, do look at the books by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, in fact one of their books “How to Cook Meat” has a whole section devoted to lamb.
    For Middle Eastern recipes with lamb try the works of Claudia Roden.

    On this side of the “pond” our farmers are also up against ferocious competition from New Zealand farmers. One of the ways the market is now changing is a growth in specialist lamb, so lamb raised in coastal areas where their diet takes on some of the flavours of their grazing. Also Herdwick sheep grown in our mountainous Lake District which has is very gamey. Another change is a growing interest in older lamb, so you are now starting to see Hogget which is a sheep around one to two years old and has a stronger, richer flavour, and Mutton which is meat from an adult sheep starting to be sold in stores. In many ways this is taking our diet back to older times when killing such a young animal as a lamb was a luxury (you can see similarities with the way suckling pig is viewed). Despite being a more common meat in the UK, lamb is still expensive, compared to pork and poultry.

    Thanks for another fascinating article.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti April 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

      Paul, thanks for sharing what’s happening on your side of the pond. One of the farmers I interviewee (Craig Rogers of Border Springs) talked about hogget and mutton. He mentioned that he himself prefers lamb that is slightly older. My family comes from a part of Italy (Abruzzo) where not only lamb but also hogget and mutton are staples. One of the region’s specialties is arrosticini, skewered mutton, minimally seasoned and cooked on special grills. It’s simple, rustic mountain cooking but there is nothing better, in my opinion. And your point about killing young animals being a luxury is spot on. I hope the trend you talk about makes its way over here.

    • Profile photo of Laura McCandlish
      Laura McCandlish December 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

      http://modernfarmer.com/2013/12/mutton/

      Mutton is alive and well here, I was excited to discover!

  8. bob woo April 1, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    I love lamb; I prefer it to beef. Consider: it, like goat, is not marbled. I’ve not fully investigated age factor (where a few days can make one hesitate about “young” and “spring” or other end into “mutton”) and American or New Zealand. I do note it is a bit like squid: you barely cook it or you cook it to death. It does have a definitive aroma and flavor. The fat of well trimmed grilled lamb, for me, is to die for. The rare part, contrasted to charred part, is what it is all about to eat grilled meat.
    I learned that if you wanted a (beef) steak severely charred outside and rare (blue, or “bleu”) you asked for “Pittsburgh” – “black and blue.” But “Pittsburg” lamb is fantastic.
    Domenica is surprised at use of soy sauce but……soy sauce is a “umami” flavor and a great enhancer. My first note of it’s use (before we commonly recognized “umami” was by James Beard. He recommended a sauce of 1/3 each butter, soy, and……vermouth (which is fortified with herbs) to baste roast fowl. I keep a jar of it in fridge for my rotisserie chicken.
    Back to lamb:

    My favorite it still Craig Claiborne’s:

    One leg of lamb, boned, butterflied. Trim off excess fat and “veil sheath.”
    Blend: 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, 1tsp. ginger powder, thyme, sage, and marjoram, 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 2 Tbs oil, and 3-4 crumbled bay leaves. (The bay leaves are noticeably important, and the omission of rosemary surprised me.) Rub mixture into lamb, let sit for at least 1/2 hour. Grill (wood, charcoal.gas) to get a good char (from soy) and then ………lower heat to your preference of rare. This will actually taste ok done beyond medium rare…..but I would not let you cook mine nor invite you to my place.

    Grill this over a hot grill. If there are leftovers, it’s great with a salad.

    • Profile photo of Michele Kayal
      Michele Kayal April 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Bob, these both sound delicious. Love a good char on lamb, especially when you get little spikes and corners of black stuff. Yum.

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti April 6, 2013 at 9:10 am #

      Bob, thanks for sharing the Craig Claiborne recipe. It sounds great and, I’m happy to say, it looks like spring is finally here in the mid-Atlantic so I’ll be trying this soon. My guess about the omission of rosemary has to do with the fact that is that it is such a powerful herb, it might overwhelm anything else.

      The Beard sauce also sounds good. I often grill portobello caps in a soy marinade as an alternative to burgers. They are delicious, and I’ll bet they would be really good basted in this sauce.

      • bob woo April 6, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        Domenica:

        My surprise at the omission of rosemary was (especially in the 1960’s when Claiborne’s first book came out) was matched by the inclusion of ginger and soy – for lamb?. I mean, even Simon and Garfunkle knew it was “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” It still seems he was throwing a whole lot of stuff together, rather haphazardly. Before this, I never thought much about bay leaves, but I do notice their flavor in this recipe. But it works, and all these years later, it is still my favorite lamb recipe.

        Beard’s recipe – I make up a batch and it is always in fridge. I heat it in simmering water to get butter remelted. It ALWAYS goes on my roast chicken done on an old Farberware rotisserie. Garlic and pepper on the skin, then evenly brush on sauce just so entire surface is coated while it starts to turn; it doesn’t look like much but makes the difference – it’s been a comfort dinner. And, the sauce wonderfully on roast turkey – whole or just a breast. I can see people pause and wonder at the golden skin and subtle difference in taste. If whole, start it out breast side down at 450 degrees, then twenty minutes later, flip it over, baste again, and turn down to 325.

        • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
          Domenica Marchetti April 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

          Bob ~ this just occurred to me, and you may know it already, but thought it was worth mentioning that James Beard grew up with a Chinese chef who first worked as a chef in a hotel that Beard’s mother ran, and then cooked for the family. I would be that this had a lifelong influence on Beard’s own cooking and recipes. He writes fondly of the chef in his memoir.

          • rgfwoo April 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

            I did forget that, but recall, now that you mention it. I can confidently guess, that with his intuitive sense of taste analysis, he was recognizing “umami” with the soy. He certainly taught me with reason for his inclusion of vermouth: it has herbs in it. And butter…………well, that goes without saying.

            And that brings up another “comfort” food…..a natural on reflextion: soy, butter, and hot rice. An aunt brought this idea from Vancouver and the family laughed at the idea, but all my fellow nephews and nieces thought it an absolute delight.

  9. Frank April 6, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    As someone who grew up eating lamb on a regular basis, I always wondered why it isn’t more popular. It’s SO tasty, much more so than beef or factory chickens. I guess it has something to do with the price?

    Speaking of which, I’ve never quite understood just why lamb is so much more expensive than other meats. Perhaps because it isn’t raised industrially like beef or chicken? The reasonably priced shoulder chop is a godsend. (The article mentions shanks too, but at least in my experience there’s pretty pricey as well.)

    • Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti April 6, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      Frank, there seem to be several factors that account for the price of lamb. For one thing, lambs and sheep graze. They take up space and need to be moved around. Also, they are smaller animals, and so the carcass yields less meat, making the processing cost higher per head. Another factor: the decline in demand over the decades has meant a decline in supply. That, too, has driven up the cost of producing lamb. And, as Paul pointed out in a previous comment, killing baby animals for consumption has always something of a luxury anyway.

      I’m with you on the shoulder chops. I get them from a producer at my local farmers’ market and they are so good on the grill.

  10. carolina April 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    Just FYI, in Washington’s and Jefferson’s day, it was largely mutton that was eaten and not lamb. Mutton would’ve been a sheep that is at least a year old and often was even two or three. The cookbooks of that time (the 18th century), which were largely British publications, reflect this, with their numerous and varied ways to prepare any and all parts of mutton. Of course, there are a few recipes specifically for lamb, but they’re far outnumbered by those for mutton. In fact, this ratio of lamb to mutton continued even into the early 19th century with the first published-in-America cookbooks.

    Incidentally, I’m from the Midwest, and we had lamb quite often when I was growing up. And based on her selections when eating out, I’d have to say it was one of my late mother’s favorite foods.

  11. Profile photo of Domenica Marchetti
    Domenica Marchetti April 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Thanks Carolina. It makes perfect sense that mutton, not lamb, would be what the Founding Fathers ate. Your comment reminded me that I have a reprint of that classic, Miss Leslie’s Directions for Cookery (originally published in 1837). You are right ~ there are far more recipes for mutton than for lamb.

    In fact, here’s what Miss Leslie writes in comparing the two: “The best way of cooking lamb is to roast it; when drest otherwise it is insipid, and not so good as mutton.” She also writes that “Lamb, like veal and pork, is not eatable unless thoroughly done; on one preferring it rare, as is frequently the case with beef and mutton.”

    I, for one, hope mutton makes a comeback.

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    Steve Webb April 21, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Man, I’m sorry I came in on this conversation at the end. I’m as befuddled as anybody as to why isn’t more popular but one reason people haven’t tried it much is that it’s largely unavailable.

    Coming from the UK where, as Paul pointed out, it’s more readily available, it’s been the bane of my life trying to find some over here. Interestingly though, talking with my wife the other day she though lamb wasn’t served as much in the UK and she’s right. It’s not pub food so much; lamb I always found was more a feature of home cooking. Lamb chops for dinner, leg of lamb for Sunday lunch, but not usually on the menu in the pub.

    An interesting factoid about where the association of lamb and mint sauce came from is a medieval belief that an animal’s best accompaniment of “tracklement” was a plant that it ate or that grew near where it grazed.

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      Domenica Marchetti April 23, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Steve ~ that fact about mint sauce is a great bit of trivia, and it makes perfect sense. It’s all about terroir. Craig Rogers, one of the sheep producers I spoke with, talked about the grasses his sheep are raised on, which affect the flavor and texture of the meat. Same with sheep’s milk cheeses ~ taste varies depending on what the sheep are eating.

      As for availability, some of the ranchers out west talked about how the vast majority of lambs and sheep are raised out there, yet they have finding lamb in their local markets. Most of it is sold on the east coast. I’m seeing it more and more on restaurant menus and at farmers’ markets.

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    Steve Webb April 23, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Thanks Domenica, spot on. Wen I talked to Buzz BeLer, owner of The Prime Rib, he told me something very similar about beef. What makes it is what it is the terroir, so it’s not just wine.
    We had a special occasion yesterday so I cooked lamb rib chops, what can i say I was inspired, and my wife asked me why we don’t see more mutton or hogget in the shops, I guess it’s an aquired taste but hopefully if we see lamb on more menus and at more markets, more people will be introduced to it and bring some home.

  14. Ellen Schwartz April 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    We have always loved lamb, but never so much as now, when we order a whole lamb several times a year from Montana. We buy from Willow Spring Ranch (http://montanaorganiclamb.com/), which produces the tastiest, most tender lamb I’ve ever had.

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      Domenica Marchetti April 25, 2013 at 6:48 am #

      Ellen, thanks for this tip and link. I know of others who are doing what you’re doing ~ ordering the entire lamb. I’d love to know some of the ways in which you cook yours.

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    Laura McCandlish December 13, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    http://modernfarmer.com/2013/12/mutton/

    Great piece! And it turns out there is a tiny yet growing market for mutton here! Ask your lamb farmer about it:)

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    Domenica Marchetti March 28, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Laura, I just saw this. Many thanks for the link!

  17. Angel July 25, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    I lived in England twice in my life for a couple of years each time and LOVED the lamb in England! The chops are bigger, tastier and cheaper. Why are American chops so puny and soooo expensive?? I never buy them, but once in a blue moon I’ll splurge on a leg if it’s on sale. I love lamb and miss having it as often…..and New Zealand lamb is no better….still small, puny and overpriced. I also love to make stew with mutton, and I can’t ever find that either in a supermarket here. I miss Sainsburys….lol.