As an ex sheep farmer I have a slight soft spot for lamb. Not much of a surprise there!
Through supplying restaurants and private individuals over the past couple of years a very clear trend started to emerge: restaurants LOVE shoulder, belly and neck. Households? Not so much, give them a leg of lamb any day.
However, there’s some good reasons why shoulder should feature in the next Sunday roast.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
Shoulder of lamb is taken from the top section of the front two legs (see image for clarification). On more than one occasion people have asked why they didn’t get four legs in their box of lamb. You have! For various physiological reasons two are shoulders.
Each shoulder contains three bones: the triangular shaped blade that as we all know makes carving a bone in shoulder slightly more tricky, the hock that joins to the bottom of the leg and a small bone that connects the two. Surrounding them is the meat and fat which gives shoulder its amazing flavour and succulence.
Depending on your butcher or supermarket, a shoulder of lamb may still have the neck fillet attached. A cylindrical joint of meat, it forms the eye piece of the chops further down the back and disappears into the round neck at the head end. Just like the shoulder it has incredible flavour and can be cooked as part of the shoulder or separately. If you haven’t tried it by itself then ask your butcher for a couple – they’re ace! (Here’s a recipe by Raymond Blanc to try, or click on his face). Shoulder isn’t a fast roasting joint like leg or rump but good things come to those who wait! The combination of the different muscle groups, marrow bones and marbled fat provide a taste sensation to be rivalled by any other joint of lamb.
Lamb has often been criticised for being a fatty and greasy meat this is because lamb fat has a higher melting point that beef or chicken. However, if you cook the shoulder nice and slowly the fat will melt into the meat and give a brilliantly succulent roasting joint. With bags of flavour.
A game of two halves
A typical whole bone in shoulder of lamb will weigh around 2kg – the size varies slightly on the breed and the age of the sheep. Small shoulders early in the spring and larger towards autumn and winter as the animal grows to its full size.
Thankfully there’s a sneaky way to get a slightly smaller cut of shoulder. Shoulder of lamb can be divided into two really easily by your butcher and they shouldn’t grumble or charge you anything for the privilege. If they do? Find a different butcher.
You can either have both and freeze one, or have a single half. The two halves are called blade-side and shank-side and take their names from the aforementioned bones. Blade-side is a chunkier piece but does contain the blade bone, the shank-side is a thinner piece of meat but makes up for it with the amazing flavour from the marrow bones. (Hover your mouse over the image to find out more)
Bone in? Bone Out?
Bone in cuts gain so much flavour from the bones and in turn produce some wicked gravy to douse over your vegetables. However, in truth they make carving harder and some people aren’t a fan on a bone on the dinner table.
Bones out cuts are really easy to carve and if rolled can be easier to cook as the joint should be the same shape and size throughout.
Personally I’d recommend a boned and rolled shoulder of lamb. When butchered all three bones will have been removed and any excess fat will have also been trimmed out. If it hasn’t? You’re being sold rubbish, find a different butcher.
Always ask for the bones! When you cook your boneless rolled shoulder put the bones on top of the joint, as they cook the juices and flavours will run over the meat and add to the gravy juices at the bottom. Sounds good?
If you’ve reached this far hopefully you’re looking forward to the prospect of a rich, flavoursome beautiful piece of shoulder. Bone in, or out but cooked with the bones on top, shoulder is a great cut of lamb and definitely worth a try. So here’s my favourite recipe by Valentine Warner. Whilst it says to use a bone in joint you can use a boneless one and adjust the cooking time to suit.
Grub’s up, enjoy! GB