The Dining Out section of the March 29, 2006 edition of the New York Times carried an interesting piece entitled “Much Ado About Mutton, but Not in These Parts” that details the American aversion to eating lamb and mutton. According to the author, R.W. Apple, Jr., American adults each consume about 50 pounds of pork and 65 pounds of beef in a year, but a mere pound of lamb and virtually no mutton at all. For those who wonder what’s the difference, it’s all about the age of the critter when dispatched: it’s called lamb if under 2 years of age, mutton thereafter.

I have to confess that until quite recently, I numbered myself among the lamb averse. I track this failing of my palate to my father, who served his WWII stint in the south Pacfic theater, where the troops were richly supplied with canned mutton from Australia. Interstingly, Mr. Apple attributes much of our national aversion to this historical factoid.

Upon returning home after the war and for the remainder of his life, my father never again ate mutton and truth be told would have preferred never to be in the same county with it, let alone smell the aroma (he would have said stench) emanating from his own kitchen. Additionally, he visited the sins of the fathers (or mothers) onto their offspring by extending his distaste for mutton to lamb. In deference to this aversion, my mother (who dearly loved lamb) never once served lamb or mutton in our home. She and my brother got their lamb fix only when dining out, where my dad didn’t have to smell it cooking. Although we’d never tasted it, my sister and I vicariously adopted our father’s digust for all things remotely tasting lamby.

Mike, on the other hand, adores lamb and I (like my mother) in deference to his love of the stuff, have not only learned to cook a mean lamb chop and rack of lamb, I’ve even learned not just to tolerate it, but to actively like it…as long as it doesn’t taste toooo lamby. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for the heady tang of mutton on a regular basis, although I did belly up to the food stand once at a fair on the Navajo reservation for a steaming bowl of mutton stew and some hot fry bread. But that was mainly for the enjoyment of the cultural experience and I recall appreciating the fry bread a lot more than the mutton stew. (Who wouldn’t?)

As a healthy red meat, lamb wins the prize, since it’s always grass fed and never finished on the feed lot. And if properly cooked, it’s a delicious addition to a healthy diet. If you’ve never (or rarely) cooked lamb, I can recommend Bruce Aidell’s Complete Meat Cookbookas the perfect guide to cooking great-tasting lamb of any sort. We’re partial to making one of his fabulous herb rubs from fresh herbs in our garden to marinate the meat and then grilling the chops, but his book offers dozens of other options. Whether you love lamb or not, if you love to cook and eat meat of any kind, this book is the gospel according to Bruce, and believe you me, Bruce knows meat!

Among the proper cooking tips for lamb, here’s one I stored one away from an article I read a number of years ago (before my conversion) in the Santa Fe New Mexican. The article focused on the chef/owner of restaurant in Taos, NM that specialized in the cuisine of the middle east, describing the way his Egyptian grandmother had taught him to cook lamb. Her never fail tip: at the last instant, before the lamb ever leaves the grill or oven, squeeze the juice of a fresh lime over it. Even to my lamb averse sensibilities, the description sounded so appealing, I clipped the article and saved it. And now that I grill and roast lamb regularly myself, I apply it. His old Egyptian granny hit the nail on the head–the juice soaks instantly into the hot meat and the light tang of lime that lingers is just the right touch.

Next time you grill or roast lamb, try it and I’ll bet that, as my old granny would have said, in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, you’ll be hooked.


  1. I agree that lamb is quite delicious, we have about 30 ewes in our pasture right now awaiting spring lambing. However a few years ago when we lived in Colorado I remember driving by a quite large lamb feedlot. It looked just like the large cattle operations. I am sure it is not the only one of its’ kind, so please tell people to ask for pasture-raised lamb, or to know the farmer producing their food and his practices.

    COMMENT from MD Eades: Thanks for pointing that out. I had been told (and operated under the misconception) that lamb was not lot fed. It appears I stand corrected. Once again, it’s caveat emptor!

  2. Oh, I love lamb! My mom always made leg of lamb for Easter and it was my job to cut little slits all over the leg and stuff them with slivers of fresh garlic. You can also put some fresh rosemary needles in the slits with the garlic. Sadly, I haven’t had lamb much since leaving home and my husband’s mother never cooked lamb so he’s rather on the fence about it. The last time I had lamb was in Nanning, China a few years ago. The chef at our hotel prepared chops from New Zealand and they were so good! Thr above poster is correct about the lamb feedlots, they are definitely around here in Colorado.

  3. My dad also hated lamb and the smell of it cooking, but I never knew why (Pacific WW2). My mom loved it tho, and cooked it whenever dad was out of town (he’d “go to school” a couple times a year for work).

    I loved lamb as a kid and young adult, but stopped buying it because of the price. Recently I bought some chops for my son and I and they were ok, but not as good as I remember.

    I just received your Low-Carb Comfort Food Cookbook and I’m going to try the leg of lamb on pg 146. It sounds yummy.

    COMMENT from MD Eades: It’s delicious! Although the recipe doesn’t say to do it, add the finishing flavor touch by squeezing the juice of a lime over it just before your remove it from the oven.

  4. No one likes to eat bland food, and if you serve your family foods that are low in taste, they are going to rebel especially where children are involved. Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to your meals. You will have the best luck with fresh plants. You might want to have an indoor herb garden so you always have what you need.

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