Take meat, for
instance. How many people are truly familiar with the early
preparation techniques—that is, the initial steps that
necessitate knowledge of how the animal is actually put together?
The world of meat fabrication has been whittled down to a
handful of hardy individuals, and everyone else seems to be
ordering their meat pre-cut, boned, and delivered to their
doorstep, so much so that it is safe to say that butchering
is in danger of becoming a lost art.
These days chefs and meat retailers usually go through a
middleman - someone who receives the whole animal and prepares
the cuts to exact specification. This, of course, saves time
and energy, and is the obvious choice for someone who is not
comfortable with or knowledgeable about butchering. But the
downside, according to Chef Geoff Gardner of Sel de la
Terre in Boston, is that there becomes a noticeable separation
between the origin and the end product. What you don't know
is when and how was the meat slaughtered, how it was treated
and stored prior to fabrication, and how exactly was the animal
butchered? Therefore, Chef Gardner believes that food professionals
have a responsibility “to remember where our food comes
from and how it’s all put together.”
So let’s start with the basics. Think of this as a
crib sheet, just in case you were sick the day they taught
Butchering 101 in culinary school. Lamb is a good starting
point. It’s smaller and more manageable than, say, a
cow, and these fabrication concepts can be applied to other
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Words to Know:
A Meat Fabrication Lexicon
bone – the shoulder blade
Bottom Round – a section of the hind
Breast – the chest area on the front
side of the animal
Butcher – to take a whole animal and
break it into primal cuts
Butterfly – to cut down the center,
but not entirely through the meat, and then lay it flat and
Calf – top layer of skin
Cap – fat
Chine bone – backbone; the chine bone
must be cut with a saw
Chuck end – the portion of the rack
closest to the neck
Chump Chop – a cut of the loin; identified
by the small round bone in the center (see Loin Chop)
Crown Roast – a half-rack that has
been trimmed and tied in a circle; often served with paper
hats on the tips of the ribs
Eye – the round or cylindrical piece
of meat on the rack
Eye of the Round – a section of the
Fabricate – similar to butchering,
but fabrication generally refers to starting with primal or
secondary cuts and trimming them down further
Fell – surface fat
Foreshank – (see Shank)
French – to remove the first several
inches of meat on and around the rib bones
Hind Shank (see Shank)
Lamb – sheep that are less than one
year old (see Mutton and Yearling Mutton)
Loin – the two sections (minus the
bone) of the saddle (see Saddle); the loins sit on
top of the bone, whereas the tenderloins sit underneath; the
loins contain the chump chops and loin chops;
Loin Chop – a cross-section of the
loin that includes the loin meat, bone, and tenderloin; identified
by the T-shaped bone in the center (see Chump Chop)
Loin end – the section of the rack
closest to the saddle
Mutton – sheep that are over two years
old (see Lamb and Yearling Mutton)
Offal – the edible internal organs
(ex. brains, heart, liver)
Primal cut – the primary cuts, starting
with the whole carcass; the less detailed work, as compared
to the secondary cuts 3
Prime Grade – the highest level in
the USDA lamb grading system; followed, in descending order,
by Choice, Good, Utility, and Cull
Rack of Lamb – all of the ribs of the
animal; a “half rack” is one side
Saddle – the section on the backside
of the animal after the ribcage ends (further back, towards
the rear of the animal); the saddle is made up of the two
Scrag – the upper portion of the neck
Secondary cut – the latter portion
of the preparation process, after the initial, larger cuts
have been made
Shank – lower part of the leg; the
foreshank comes from the front legs, whereas the hind shank
is from the back legs
Tenderloin – the two sections of muscle
on the underside of the saddle; the tenderloins sit underneath
the bone, whereas the loins sit on top
Top Round – the most tender piece of
hind leg meat
Yearling Mutton – sheep that are between
one and two years of age (see Lamb and Mutton) 4
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Facts & Tips
Lamb is often aged for up to a week before being butchered.
The meat tenderizes as it ages, developing more flavor.
The parts of the animal that get more use tend to
be more flavorful. “More use” means more
blood flow, so the meat is darker and tougher—these
cuts (e.g. legs) are often best braised or slow roasted. By
contrast, the most tender piece of meat on the whole animal,
the tenderloin, has a milder taste and a softer texture. Chefs
often marinate the more tender parts to strengthen their flavor.
Lambs with creamy-white fat tend to be younger. Avoid
meat with crumbly or yellowish fat unless you’re specifically
looking for an older animal. 5
Young lamb flesh is typically pale pink. 6
Blue-tinged knuckle bones are typical of younger animals.
Legs are most often used at carving stations or for larger
parties. A rack is sufficient for 2-3 people. It is customary
to serve 2-3 loin chops per person. There are about 6 servings
per shoulder. 8
The membrane over the surface fat (fell) is often intentionally
left intact. The fell helps the meat retain its shape, especially
for larger cuts. For smaller cuts, it’s recommended
that the fell be removed so that it doesn’t distort
the shape. The fell also helps to retain natural juices when
Essential butchering tools include a saw, cleaver, and paring
knife. The shorter the knife, the easier it’ll be to
cut the meat without damaging it. Knives with plastic handles
are recommended for maximum safety (particularly for cleaning
Lamb can be refrigerated for up to five days. Roasts can be
stored for four to five days. Smaller cuts shouldn’t
be kept for more than three days. Ground lamb or small pieces
last for one or two days. 10
can be frozen for up to six months. Ground lamb should only
be frozen for three months. 11
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Guide to Fabrication:
1. Get the details before you start.
Know when and how the lamb was slaughtered so that you can
wait the proper amount of time before beginning the butchering
process. Chef Gardner recommends hanging the carcass in a
walk-in refrigerator (~38 degrees) for about one week from
the time that it was slaughtered.
2. Take out the offal. Reserve
the kidneys, liver, and heart for cooking if desired. When
trimming the kidneys out, pull the fat off of them.
3. Saw off the head. Reserve for
stock or soup.
4. Saw off the neck. The neck can
be braised or used in stock.
5. Take off the forelegs. Chef
Gardner’s most important tool for this step is his hand.
Before even picking up the knife, he feels exactly where the
bones are so that he knows where to cut and doesn’t
accidentally damage a piece of meat that he’s trying
to save. After the initial inspection, lift up the leg and
cut from the armpit towards the body. Note that the two legs
are attached by the tailbone.
Separate the shank. Sukey Jamison
of Jamison Farm recommends leaving the shank on if you’re
planning on carving meat from the bone—this allows
for easier handling.
6. Take off the hind legs. As with
the forelegs, pinch with the fingers so that you know where
the meat is. Avoid cutting into the loin. Pop the ball-and-socket
joint on the femur. Follow it with the knife. Cut off the
Separate the top round, bottom round,
eye of the round, and knuckle. Follow the seams and
separate the parts using your fingers.
7. Trim off the flank. If it’s
a small animal, there might not be quite enough meat to cook
on its own; if this is the case, reserve the flank with the
other braising meats.
8. Saw off the rump-end of the animal.
Begin where the saddle ends. If possible, use an electric
saw. Reserve for stock or sausage meat.
9. Separate the saddle from the rack.
There is usually one rib bone attached on the rack-end
of the saddle. Either leave all the ribs on and separate the
saddle at the end, or leave one rib bone attached. Use
a saw for the separation. Remove the silver skin covering
the meat. Slip the point of a knife underneath the skin. Trim
in one direction and then the other, taking off as little
meat as possible in the process.
Carve the meat off the bone. There
are four pieces of meat on the saddle: two tenderloins (underneath),
and two loins (on top). Ride a knife close to the bone,
starting with the tenderloins, and carefully lift off the
Make loin chops. Cut the saddle
into cross sections—each cross section has bone in
the center and meat (loin and tenderloin) on either side.
10. Separate the rack into halves.
Use a saw. Separate it top to bottom along the chine bone.
Hug close to the chine bone, making cuts at the shoulder.
French out the half-racks. The
idea is to make the bones equal in length all the way across.
Use a cleaver to strike each bone firmly and cleanly. Use
a knife to separate the tips that you’re discarding.
There are two basic Frenching methods: 1) Score the cap
(fat). Use a knife to cut out all the meat between the bones.
Pull the cap back and scrape the bones until smooth. 2)
Score the back of each rib bone using a knife. Using your
fingers, peel the meat away from the bone.
The former approach tends to be quicker, while the latter
can have a cleaner end result. Whichever one you choose,
complete the process by trimming away the excess meat and
removing the tendon from over the eye.
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Chefs tend to prepare lamb in similar ways. But there are
many parts of the animal that are underutilized, or that are
begging for a fresh method of preparation. Here’s a
list of suggestions:
Leg – butterfly and roll, grill, roast,
Loin – grill, roast and
Neck – grill, roast and slice
Rack – grill (as chops), pan-fry, roast
Saddle – roast whole or boneless
Shank – braise (for gravy or jus)
Shoulder – braise, long-roast (for stews
Top round – broil, cube
(for shish kabobs), roast
Kidney – sauté; first soak in milk overnight
Liver – sauté
Heart – roast, pickle,
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Our Lamb Experts
Chef Geoff Gardner
Chef Geoff Gardner worked for Frank and Catherine McClelland
for nearly ten years at L'Espalier in Boston before
creating Sel de la Terre, where he is now the Executive
Chef and co-owner. A native of New England, Chef Gardner cultivated
his love of food from his grandfather, who instilled in him
a fascination with the variety and natural beauty of food.
His training was strengthened both in his extensive travels
throughout France, and in his studies at Boston University's
School of Restaurant Management. Chef Gardner considers bread
to be his specialty, and holds a special place in his heart
for Provençal cuisine. He also has quite the green
thumb, and grows herbs for his restaurant in his garden.
Chef Mark Hirschorn
Chef and businessman Mark Hirschorn is a meat guy through
and through. For over thirty years his family has owned and
operated a wholesale veal company (L&J Wholesale Veal,
which was later changed to Premier Veal). Chef Hirschorn
joined the family business after studying hotel and restaurant
management at SUNY (State University of New York) and then
training at the Culinary Institute of America. In 2004 he
left Premier Veal to work at B. Rosen & Sons,
a lamb and veal operation based in New York.
Sukey Jamison is a lamb aficionado and co-owner of Jamison
Farm, a 210-acre farm that produces some 5,000 lambs
annually. The animals – which are hormone-, antibiotic-,
herbicide-, and insecticide-free – are shipped to home
cooks and chefs across the country, including Chefs Alain
Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Terrance Brennan, William Telapan,
and Alessandro Stratta. She and her husband – who were
high school sweethearts – have been raising and producing
lamb for over 25 years. Jamison is a talented cook in her
own right. She has a line of hand-prepared lamb dishes, including
an award-winning lamb pie and a lamb stew created in collaboration
with the late Jean-Louis Palladin.
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1. According to the American Lamb
Industry Association, Americans eat an average of one pound
of lamb per year (versus 66 pounds of beef). http://www.jamisonfarm.com/Lambs-Tales1.htm
8. According to Sukey Jamison.
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