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Lamb isn’t just for Easter

Recipe Swap

Braised lamb

I never ate lamb until I was in my early 20s and started trying new foods with new friends from around the world.

That first bite was memorable — in a curry with plenty of red hot chilies! Since that first eye-popping meal, I’ve learned to love the subtle taste of lamb in stews and not-quite-so-hot curries, and especially those ultra-delicious tiny, grilled chops.

But I admit I don’t buy it nearly as often as other types of meats. That’s typical, say staff with the Canadian Sheep Federation. And it’s not just because lamb is still hard to get in many smaller centres.

One might assume, in a country as multicultural as Canada, we would be regular eaters of lamb, and increasingly so. But it’s actually the opposite.

Even those who customarily eat lamb are eating less of it, according to Corlene Patterson, the executive director of the CFS. We hit a five-year low in 2012 for lamb consumption at just .877 kg per person, which is even less than we were eating in 2008. The slow decline in consumption is mainly attributable to the higher cost of lamb, says Patterson, adding that even those who might typically eat it, will choose chicken, beef or pork when they balk at the price.

That sounds like bad news for Canadian lamb producers. But the good news is that Canadians definitely do have an appetite for lamb, and Canadian producers are having no trouble selling all they produce.

“That slow decrease in per capita consumption doesn’t have a huge impact on us,” said Patterson. “We’ve always been able to market all of what we produce.”

Canadians’ appetite for lamb outstrips our current supply of domestically raised lamb, which is why we’re still importing over half of all we eat. Plus, as more value-added, easy-to-prepare products come on the market, that demand is only going to grow.

Farmers, in fact, are gearing up for an increased appetite for lamb. The new Canadian Lamb Producers Co-operative begins buying finished lambs this spring. “Our plan is to start small and ramp up,” said CEO Terry Akerman, in a recent article in this paper about the co-op’s use of new technologies for grading and traceability to help build more value and profitability into Canadian lamb production. That eventually means more lamb at lower prices too.

Canadian lamb does have a few other fences to leap before it lands on our plates.

A big one is lack of familiarity with lamb, outside those who already know the great stew and kebab recipes. Consumers need to know more about this meat, including the diversity of cuts available, and need recipes for using lamb in everyday meals.

We also tend to see it as a one-time special occasion meat right now too.

“I think a lot of the time, when consumers think of lamb, they think of only a leg of lamb or a roast,” says Patterson. “And what you can do with lamb or mutton goes well beyond that.”

Lamb pizza, anyone?

More from our Country Crossroads section: Recipe Swap: Slow down and fill up

A few things you might not know about lamb:

  • Just 3 oz. of cooked lamb, with any excess fat removed, provides the average person with 48 per cent of their daily protein requirements.
  • Compared to other meats, lamb contains very little marbling (fat in the meat). Only one-third of fat in lamb is saturated, so the majority of the fat is on the edges of the meat. This means that the excess fat is easily trimmed off, which means fewer calories.
  • Lamb is one of the richest sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA possesses unique and potent antioxidant activity.
  • A recent study also shows that only about 36 per cent of the fat in lamb is saturated. The rest is mono- or polyunsaturated, the “good” fat in one’s diet.

When buying lamb

If chops or a crown roast are the only cuts that come to mind when considering serving lamb, think again. Your butcher can provide you with cubes for kebabs or stewing, or ask for sirloin lamb steaks, boneless loins, a neck slice or shoulder roast, a boneless rolled roast, flank side ribs, and many more of the 35 retail cuts available.

Here are three recipes for cooking lamb, including one for a traditional leg of lamb plus two for quicker meals using chops and cubes. All these recipes are found on the website of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency. Check out www.ontariosheep.org for more ideas.

Braised Lamb

  • 3 lbs. boneless stewing lamb, cubed
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 c. apple juice
  • 1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 1 – 7-1/2-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 3/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Cooked rice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and cook gently for two minutes. Trim excess fat from lamb. Roll in flour. Add to pan and brown well. Place in a 13×9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with onion and mushrooms. Combine soup, tomato sauce, apple juice, sour cream, bouillon, salt, pepper and rosemary in a saucepan. Heat and stir to blend. Pour over lamb. Cover tightly and bake for one hour. Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Continue to bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Serve with rice. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Makes: 4 servings.

Source: Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency

Grilled Lamb Chops with Cucumber Mint Sauce

Lamb chops have never tasted more spring-like than they do in this fast and fresh entrée.

  • 8 loin lamb chops
  • 2 – 3 c. plain yogurt
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. concentrated mint sauce
  • 1 c. shredded cucumber, squeezed dry and chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, garlic and mint sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least one hour to blend flavours. Spread thin coating of the concentrated mint sauce on both sides of lamb chops; let stand 15 minutes. Grill or broil lamb to desired doneness. Serve with additional cucumber mint sauce. Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour. Serves 4.

Source: Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency

Lamb Pot Pie with Feta Potato Crust

  • 2 lbs. lamb shoulder, ground
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. mint, dried
  • 1-1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1-1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 1/3 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • 35-oz. can plum tomatoes, diced, save the juice

In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, stirring until softened. Add garlic and lamb and cook until brown. Drain excess fat. Add cinnamon, oregano, mint and allspice and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes, juice, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 15 minutes then transfer to baking dish.

Topping: Peel potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain cooked potatoes and mash lightly with hand masher. Add Parmesan cheese, butter, feta cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Spoon potato mixture over the lamb mixture and bake in 400 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Preparation time: 40 minutes. Cooking time: 40 minutes. Serves 8.

Source: Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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