Irish lamb is one of the most delicious meats produced in this country, but it’s not used as commonly as beef or pork.
In our Back to Basics series, we’re going to be looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef, chicken thighs, pork belly; today we're looking at lamb chops.
Lamb refers to meat that comes from sheep that are younger than 12 months old. Spring lamb is less than six months old, while animals that are aged 6-12 months are simply known as lamb. If the lamb was aged between 12 and 24 months when it was butchered, it is known as a hogget. This is the most common type of lamb sold in Ireland, with most meat coming from animals that were aged 18 months or less. If the sheep is aged 24 months or more, it is known as mutton which has quite a strong flavour and is tougher than lamb. While mutton was very commonly used in Irish cooking in the past, it started to go out of fashion around 30 years ago, with most consumers only using lamb in their cooking these days. The term lamb chops covers a variety of pieces of lamb. To get some more insight about this cut of meat, we spoke to Barry Kerrigan of award-winning Kerrigan’s Craft Butchers, which has a 45-year history in Ireland. Kerrigan's Craft Butchers was founded in 1973 by Brendan Kerrigan, who had been learning his craft from the age of just 13! Brendan's two sons, Barry and Shane, now run the business, which has stores in Malahide and Donaghmede, as well as a head office in Baldoyle.
According to Barry, there are many different types of lamb chops: centre loin chops, which are the most well-known type, are super tender. Leg chops are the equivalent of beef fillet steak, as they come from the same area. They can be served on or off the bone and are delicious when cooked as a roast.
Lamb cutlets, which come from the rack of lamb, are located next to the loin of lamb, so they’re very tender. Barry told us that the cutlets aren’t commonly sold separately from the rack, which is often used for roasting. The cutlets and rack are quite expensive but very tasty and tender, so are suitable for pan-frying and grilling.
Shoulder chops, also known as gigot chops, are quite tough but full of flavour. This chop is usually sold on the bone and slow-cooked in order to tenderise it. Shoulder chops were commonly used in traditional Irish stew, which is what Barry tells us he was brought up on. Lamb neck chops are also good for slow cooking as they’re so tough.
Of these chops, Barry says that the centre loin chops are the most popular as they are so easy to cook. They’re also the only ones that are regularly seen in stores and butcher shops; the others aren’t widely available, but if you ask for them from your butcher, they should be able to sort you out with some.
When buying lamb, there are a few things you should look out for. Your first port of call should be to a reputable craft butcher, as they will be able to advise you on your purchase. Barry also told us that butchers usually hang their lamb for around 7-10 days, which helps to break down the meat and tenderise it, which is something that isn’t usually done by supermarkets. Barry believes that lamb from supermarkets is often sold vacuum packed in order to disguise the fact that it hasn’t been hanged for long enough, so he recommends that you head to the butcher instead so that you ask about how long the meat has been hanged for before you buy it. It’s also important to check the colour of the meat before you buy it. It should be a rosé pink and not too dark, as this would indicate that the meat came from a tougher, older animal.
Lamb should be stored in a fridge for up to four days before use or it can be frozen on the day of purchase and used within 3-4 months. When you bring your lamb home from the butcher, Barry says that it’s imperative to remove it from its packaging. Keep the lamb on a plate, lightly covered with clingfilm to allow the air to move around. Barry says that people often keep the meat in a plastic bag or covered with clingfilm, which causes the meat to sweat as the air can’t penetrate it. Looking for a way to cook with lamb chops? Try out the recipes below:
- The champ dopiaza, above, from Kinara Kitchen uses gigot (shoulder) chops to create a spicy, flavourful dish.
- This Hugo Arnold recipe for lamb and olive stew uses stewing lamb, so lamb neck chops would work really well.
- Another Hugo Arnold recipe, this marinated lamb dish calls for leg of lamb steaks, which is another name for lamb leg chops.