As popular as lamb is in France, at least based on the concentration of lamb recipes in my French cookbooks, it is surprising to find that compared to other countries in the world, the French rank only tenth based on per capita consumption. (But this consumption is still ten times more than Americans consume.)
Lamb is available in a number of varieties and quality levels in France. Each region has its own claim to a unique, if subtle, flavor that makes its variety the best. Lamb may be sold as being from the Pyrenees, Pauillac, Auvergne, or another region. Lamb may be labeled as pré-salé indicating that it was raised near the sea on grass high in sodium and iodine.
In general, lamb is divided into three age-based categories. Agnelet (milk-fed lamb) is slaughtered before it is weaned at an age of 30 to 40 days when the animal weighs between 8 to 10 kilograms (18 to 22 pounds). The meat is very tender and delicate, but many people feel that it lacks flavor. Agneau blanc (white lamb), sometimes called laiton, is slaughtered at an age of about 70 to 150 days when it weighs 20 to 25 kilograms (44 to 55 pounds). Its diet is based on both milk and grass, yielding meat that is dark pink and firm when raw. The fat is white. The meat becomes very tender when cooked. About three-fourths of the lamb sold in France is of this type. Agneau gris (gray lamb), sometimes called broutart, is slaughtered when it is between 180 and 270 days old and weighs 30 to 40 kilograms (66 to 88 pounds). This lamb is mostly grass-fed with some additional cereal grains. The fat is no longer white and thus the name. Its meat is firmer and more fully flavored, which some people prefer.
Much of the lamb production in France is done under strict conditions and rules. The packaged lamb bears the label rouge stamp certifying compliance with these restrictions, which vary from region to region. Less than half of the lamb consumed in France is produced in France.
In the restaurants I’ve worked in in France where lamb was regularly served, the lamb was received as dressed carcasses weighing 15 to 20 kilograms (33 to 44 pounds). The cooks would break down the carcass into the various parts—generally shoulder roasts that were boned and rolled, racks, and legs. The breast was boned out, cubed, and cooked to be used as a garnish in sauces. The saddle went to the chef’s table for the family dinner. The bones were used to produce fond d’agneau, the lamb stock used in the sauces.
For most of us, the lamb we purchase will already be cut into a roast, chop, rack, or leg. The way it has been cut will partially be a function of where we reside. The manner in which lamb carcasses are butchered varies from country to country and from region to region. A diagram of the way French butchers generally divide a lamb carcass is shown below.
During the past few years I have received numerous requests for additional lamb recipes on this site. Hopefully, the recipes included will satisfy these requests.
©2005, 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.