Well-traveled diners are increasingly interested in trying lamb as a featured ingredient in authentic world cuisines. As a leading source of protein around the globe, lamb gains hometown credibility for chefs who purchase American lamb. “It’s available year-round across the country, and it’s up to 10,000 miles fresher than imported lamb,” says Megan Wortman, Executive Director at the American Lamb Board, an industry-funded research and promotions commodity board.
“We’re focused on promoting the freshness, flavor, nutritional benefit and culinary versatility of American lamb,” Wortman says. “Today’s consumers care where their food comes from, and they want to support local farmers and ranchers. There are more than 80,000 sheep producers in this country, most of which are family-owned and operated.”
Adventurous and flavorful
American lamb has a positive nutrition profile, especially compared to other red meat. A three-ounce serving has just 175 calories and meets the FDA’s definition of lean.
Wortman has noticed a rise in adventurous menus that experiment with cuts of lamb that are great for braised applications, such as shank and shoulder. “We are seeing growth in lamb’s use in more approachable menu items, from tacos to burgers to meatballs,” Wortman says.
“Chefs are serving lamb in small plates and non-traditional center of the plate items, from flatbreads to sandwiches,” she says. Other new twists on traditional lamb preparations include braised lamb shoulder pasta dishes, lamb kabobs and lamb burgers. “Ground lamb is the fastest growing cut being sold in retail,” Wortman says. “It’s being used in meatballs, meatloaf and in Greek-inspired nachos.”
Hold the mint jelly
“Many chefs are buying whole lambs from local lamb marketers and menuing all of the cuts,” Wortman says. While racks of lamb remain the most popular cut in fine dining, other cuts are growing in popularity on more casual menus. She notes the increasing popularity of less common cuts such as lamb spareribs (Denver ribs), lamb loin chops (lamb T-bones), lamb belly and lamb bacon.
“It’s not your grandma’s overcooked lamb with mint jelly,” Wortman says. “Lamb is an adventurous and flavorful protein.”