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Lamb question

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  • jim t May 23, 2006 11:57 AM
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Why is lamb in general far more popular in europe than it is in america. I know people here in the usa that have never even tried it or even seen it!

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  1. no idea...i love lamb....it is actually my # 1 meat of choice. (in fact i made some fantastic xianjiang lamb skewers the other day) goat is actually my favorite...mexican birria de chivo actually.

    i love the juiciness and strong 'gameyness' of these meats,

    i believe it has to do with two variables

    1) a country's culinary history/tradition/geography

    2) and specifically in europe the mad cow scare. (i lived in berlin for a year and maybe consumed beef twice with my host family. what little i saw in the supermarket for basic cuts cost much more than filet mignon here...needless tyo say i had schweinefleisch overdose there)

    1. My theory is that a lot of people in this country still either grew up before WWII or are the children of those who did - in other words, at a time when what was primarily available was mutton, rather than lamb. I remember having mutton as a child (my maternal grandparents were from Scotland) - it was not delightful, to say the least. Lamb is slowly becoming more popular, at least with the "foodie" element. But it's a smaller animal and yields fewer cuts of meat per animal, so maybe it isn't as cost-effective to raise and market as beef. Like pork, it will probably remain a "second choice" meat.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Akatonbo

        Also, in the US, what passes for lamb is often something that would not be considered optimal elsewhere for either lamb or mutton: it's kinda between them.

        There are actually folks who prefer genuine mutton to lamb, btw: often from the British Isles and France. Genuine mutton is virtually unheard of in the USA, at least in the marketplace. And real baby lamb is often only found at certain times of the year in Italian/Hispanic markets.

        Another thing is that lamb requires more prep because of removing the fell (silverskin) and fat is more essential on lamb (at least the kind we get here) than other cuts of meat. And the choice of cuts commonly available here is very small compared to other meats. When was the last time you saw lamb breast in the market?

        That said, lamb is my favorite red meat.

      2. Good question. Until a couple of years ago, my nieces wouldn't touch lamb in any form. Apparently, they'd been forced by their Lebanese grandmother to eat something they called "lamb meat and eggs" when they visited her and associated all lamb dishes with that one. (I think it was scrambled eggs with ground lamb.) I finally got them turned around because they love my cooking and I made rack of lamb for them. But they still refer to lamb as "lamb meat," which is kind of weird. I mean, I've never heard anyone refer to beef as "cow meat."

        1. Because compared to Europe, beef is both very good and very cheap here. We grew up on beef and thus lamb was both too gamy and expensive for most American tastes.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dinwiddie

            Dinwiddle said what I was going to suggest far more succinctly than I would have...

            Too $$$, too "gamy" even when neither is really true.

            Like everyone else here, Lamb is my favorite red meat.

            BTW- Bob Martinez: LOL!

          2. It was the puppet. After they saw that people decided Lambchop was too cute to eat.

            Image: http://www.mykeru.com/assets/images/l...

            1. I grew up in Oregon - the eastern parts of which have a large sheep industry - and I grew up eating lamb because it was available in the markets. Though I must admit that lamb was not as common at our table as beef or chicken.

              But I do remember that my grandmother wouldn't say that lamb was lamb. I think she was afraid that I might balk at eating something that came from a cute little creature. (Little did she know that I would eat Bambi if I had the chance). But it is interesting that we have no "culinary" name for lamb as we do with mutton, beef, veal, or pork. Maybe that leads to reluctance in some people to eat it.

              1. I don't know anyone who doesn't like lamb (at least, anyone who's said so), though I know people who insist on eating only the non-"lamby"-tasting parts. The stouter it is, the more I like it - my best cassoulet by far was made with lamb neck! Though my early childhood was during WW2, I remember having mutton only once or twice, and my recollection is that I liked it...and I LOVE Kentucky barbecued mutton. Anyway, the availability of lamb has risen dramatically everywhere in this country for the last 20 years or so, which to me means both that the supply has become more abundant and that the meat has become a lot more popular; I think it's obvious that these two phenomena are inextricably intertwined.

                I remember when a passion for lamb was almost a cult thing. My ex-wife used to cook at a veggie restaurant; the prep folks weren't expected to be 100% vegetarian, but the lead cooks were. One Monday she noticed that her shift leader had a notch in the blade of his favorite knife, and she asked him about it. "Lamb bone," he whispered...

                1. I wouldn't attribute the lesser popularity of lamb in North America to be just a "white-bread American" phenomenon, I mean, British people living in colonial India complained about the "lamb" and my entire family from Hong Kong dislikes lamb and absolutely detests anything stronger (like goat or mutton).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Curtis

                    I think that what Curtis said has validity, but I want to add another factor to the typical dislike of lamb in the US, and that is the OVERCOOKING of it! From what I have observed, most people's past negative experiences with lamb (strong taste, strong odor) were the result of vastly overcooking this succulent meat.

                    Last summer, I had a cook-out for friends and family. Knowing an old friend's stated aversion to the smell and taste of lamb, I asked him ahead of time what he would like me to grill for him. He replied that he planned to fill up on my hors d'ouvres and appetizers, and would sample the lamb just to be polite.

                    Well, guess what? He ate two large helpings of the lamb, and told me that it was nothing at all like the tough, dry, strong-tasting meat that his mother had forced on him in the '50s. My lamb was served medium-rare, as it should be, and by doing so, I won a convert to the ranks of lamb aficianadoes.

                    1. re: JB

                      Curtis is absolutely right, overcook it and it goes grey and dry.

                      It has to be dome medium rare, my favourite way (I am English) is a shoulder stuffed with garlic slices and then roasted with a rub of olive oil, rosemary leaves and sea salt on it.

                      Then make a gravy with the pan drippings and a little red wine and serve it with roast potatoes and Colman's mint sauce , don't use mint jelly , and mix a little mint sauce into the gravy.

                      BTW I think the definiton of mutton is a one year old sheep, lamb technically is under 12 months old.

                    2. re: Curtis

                      I'm guessing British people in India complained about the quality of the lamb, since both lamb and mutton are traditional British foods. After all, Britain had a sheep-based (wool) economy for hundreds of years and England (shepherd's pie), Ireland (Irish stew) and Scotland (haggis) have iconic dishes based on lamb.

                    3. My father always talked about the mutton he was forced to eat (when there's nothing else, depression time you know) and how much he hated it. But, he did like lamb and when growing up it wassn't unusal to have lamb chops for dinner albeit never enough as far as I was concerned. I think a lot of people were subjected to mutton and never got over it or even wanted to try lamb.

                      1. thanks for the response i think this answers all my questions!

                        1. Let's try to put a less positive spin on the subject of lamb because as with everything, as soon as it gains popularity, it becomes expensive. Hey, it's happened to chicken wings, to lamb shanks, to skate, to oxtails, and soon to some other relatively inexpensive cut of meat on the market. Let's keep it our little secret. I've come to love eating and cooking lamb. I truly think a lot of people don't buy lamb because they don't like the taste, and they don't know how to prepare it. I know of one person who said 'It stinks when you cook it'. All I can do is point that person in the direction of a good cookbook and some Lysol.

                          Here's some ideas: Scotch broth soup, utilizing the neck or breast of lamb. Lamb roast. Lamb chops. Lamb sausage. Lamb stew. Lamb kabobs on the grill. The list goes on and on. Sound interesting yet?

                          1. Was lamb always less popular/unpopular in the US? Or is this a 20th-century phenomenon?

                            It's just so strange that lamb and mutton are - and have been for centuries - such mainstays in Europe, the Middle East, and much of Asia, yet are almost absent in the US.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: racer x

                              My guess is that it's always been less popular, at least in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Relatively fewer emigres from places where lamb was part of the tradition, and a landscape that supported cattle more readily than sheep, which, according to my farmer-grandfather (who was also a teacher and history buff), were not so sturdy under less-than-ideal conditions. I grew up in rural Missouri and no one in our entire county raised sheep, nor did they in the neighboring counties. I didn't taste it or even come across a restaurant that served it until I was in my 20's and living in a larger world. Sheep were something you saw in storybooks, and mutton was something you read about in English novels.

                            2. My grandparents were born in Ireland but moved here when young and never served lamb to their kids. I'm not sure if it was the lack of availability or the cost. I grew up in DC and lamb just wasn't in the grocery stores. And since my parents didn't grow up eating it they weren't about to search out something so "odd."

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mojoeater

                                I find it really interesting that people say that lamb wasn't available. I've been cooking lamb for 40 years and never had any trouble buying it at the supermarket.

                              2. I grew up with lamb chops, and when I really want to go all out for my family I do roasted rack of lamb with cherry tomatoes.