I’ve held off on writing a post about this, because it all hinged on a poorly remembered Julia Child video, (perhaps even recreated by Meryl Streep’s JC caricature in Julie and Julia- don’t want to be too derivative of other food-centric bloggers) wherein she had a whole lamb carcass, which she then proceeded to fabricate and educate her viewers about the various methods of preparation. I’ve searched high and low, and cannot find a copy of the video on Youtube, or even a mention of the lamb itself, affectionately referred to as Vincent, Virgil, or some other V name.

Ah, well.

I was also going to write about packing a picnic lunch, but the weather in Chicago has gone from 80 degrees on Monday to an abysmal 45 and foggy today. Here’s the cribbed version: On Monday, I made a picnic lunch- Two kinds of hummus. One had fresh basil and pistachios while the other had sun-dried tomatoes. Made a pasta salad with feta, zucchini, broccoli, sweet peppers, and some leftover balsamic dressing. Also made a salad with Plums, Peaches, basil, red onions, rice vinegar, tomatoes, and a splash of olive oil. All were tasty. We ate them at an outdoor concert.

As a sidebar which I as the writer of this blog reserve for questions, what does a sun-dried tomato factory look like? There’s no way that all these tomatoes can be left to dry in the sun. Are they really? Why not just say preserved or oven roasted? There is no way. Who works at these places, walking by row after row of tomatoes out in the sun, deciding, “Nope, those aren’t ready yet.” What happens if it rains?

Hey. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about lamb.

At my store, we get most of our lamb from New Zealand. It’s plentiful and lean, raised on the Middle Earth Pasture, and by itself, it’s pretty good. However, it has to come from New Zealand, and it takes a long time to get to us, as does anything sold in mass quantities from overseas. Don’t worry. It’s the same every place. Look at those bananas. Do you think they were green because they were picked yesterday? Unless you’re on the crisp cool shores of Puget Sound, do you think that salmon was caught that morning? Nah.

But this new lamb, we get in every Friday and Saturday from Chiapetti Lamb and Veal, a processing facility not two miles away. The lamb come from South Dakota, and they are slaughtered on a Tuesday and delivered to us on a Friday as whole lamb carcasses (heads removed, of course).

We then break it down into parts that will be more easily marketable. The first cut, we split the animal in half with a lengthwise cut. This gives us visual access to the rib bones, and lets us see where we need to make the cuts to come up with rack of lamb, loin chops, and the leg of lamb/shanks.

Shoulder, Square Cut

From the front of the animal, this is the first piece to come off. Sliced and trimmed, this can be made into lamb shoulder chops for the grill, done as a bone-in roast, braised, or taken off the bone, rolled, and stuffed. It’s a versatile, flavorful cut of meat,

Splitting the Rack and Loin

After the shoulder is removed, we split the rack section from the loin. There are eight bones in the rack, and further fabrication of that cut  (removing the meat from between the rib bones, or Frenching) yields what we see on fancy menus as rack chops or “lollipop” chops. In addition to the frenching, we remove the feather bones, to make it an easier cut at the table.

Removing the Chine from the Rack

What you’re left with, after a little bit of trimming, is the leg. With a sharp knife, trim around the aitch bone (which is connected to the leg bone), and remove it. You can trim the short end, make it into the lamb hindshank for braising, and trim the leg bone out to make a boneless roast.

The best thing about getting the whole lamb carcass is that by trimming it, and sectioning it out into all the cuts, is that there’s virtually no waste. There’s a tiny bit of feather bones to be thrown out, but you can use the bones for stew, grill the riblets, and use the trim for lamb burgers.

Really, lamb is pretty good. Just as with veal, it is a younger version of a meat that some people don’t find quite so palatable. Me? I don’t really care for beef. If I had my choice between an animal that wanders around for 2 years, getting tougher and tougher with every step, or one that is younger and more tender, I’ll go for the milder one.

It’s healthy, tender, mild, and does really well with any flavors. Next time you’re in my store, buy some. It’s delicious. Any questions you have about lamb, post them here, and I’ll be happy to send up some recipe recommendations.

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