Saturday, 27 October 2007

deconstructing a spring lamb

As part of Good Food Month, today I spent a few hours at Surry Hill’s Hudson Meats where I watched a very skilled butcher carve up a lamb into it’s various parts.

Cowra lamb is the most common lamb in Australian supermarkets. It’s usually a Merino hybrid and is quick to grow but usually a bit tougher and has a stronger odour.

The lamb that we worked with today was a Suffolk breed. These sheep are squat, large framed sheep with black heads and legs. They generally take longer to fatten up than Merino hybrid breeds and their carcases are quite meaty, with fine grain, lean flesh. They have a very high proportion of lean meat to fat.

Records show the first Suffolks were brought to Australia in the very early 1800s, however the first officially registered flock was imported in 1903.

These specific Suffolk lambs that we worked on had switched from milk to grass for a day or two before they were slaughtered so their meat was pale and soft. They were about 5 months old and weighed around 15kg.

The farmer, who delivers a few of these special sheep every six months, sent them to the abattoir at Oberon and then forwarded them directly to Hudson’s Meats where the carcases are hung for three days to firm up before their debut on the chopping board.

I wanted to give you a step by step account of the deconstruction of this unfortunate creature, but I didn’t take notes and the information was so intense and overwhelming that I can’t recall everything in detail. Sorry!

It was interesting to reconfirm things I knew by intuition, such as meat is best stored uncut and it’s the oxidisation on the increased surface area that causes the lamb to start smelling. Also, serrated blades cause damage too so butchers try to cut the flesh and use their electric band saw only to slice through the bones.

What was amazing was how the butcher would slice up this thing that looked like an animal and after a few cuts a familiar cut of meat appeared, like a flesh sculpture. It was hard to imagine a cutlet appearing from the rib cage, but there is was before my eyes.

Another interesting aspect was the different types of fat and how sheets of it could just be peeled away from the meat with only a little pressure. The butcher’s knife was so sharp he made the whole process seem ridiculously easy. In fact the butcher was meticulous and got lost in trimming the meat, forgetting he had an audience. It showed he took great care in the final product.

I asked the butcher whether he tended to cut off more fat than he thought he should, simply because people wanted to buy lean meat and that meat with a little more fat wouldn’t sell as well. He smirked and said it was true that many people wanted leaner meat, but that he would always recommend cooking with the fat then removing the fat before serving.

Another recent food trend mentioned was the sudden popularity of lamb shanks. He said previously you couldn’t give them away and now, especially during winter, they are in huge demand. Shanks tend to come from the front half of the lamb which means there’s only two per animal, making them expensive cuts to buy.

Cutlets are also pricey, since each lamb yields about 16 cutlets.

I learnt some new words too, such as denuding (removing the fat) and bird caging (removing the flesh between the cutlet bones).

What also struck me was how nothing was wasted. The bones were set aside to be turned into rich stock that they sell frozen. Tiny pieces of meat (the size of a coin) were salvaged from between bones and fat to be used for mince or sausages. The fat was collected and would be sold (15c per 20kg) to a special company that supplies cosmetic and pet food businesses.

Everything was used. It was amazing.

In the end we had watched the creation of chump chops, cutlets, backstrap, rack, shoulder roast and leg roast etc

Afterwards I bought some cutlets from the same lamb we’d cut, as well as two delicious sausages which I ate for dinner tonight (Angus beef & horseradish and pork, veal & truffles).

I am yet to cook the lamb. Another day, another adventure.

Hudson Meats
410 Crown Street
Surry Hills, Sydney
+61 2 9332 4454




  1. What an interesting day! I would probably remember what the different cuts were if I actually watched the butcher.
    And those sausages sound wonderful...

  2. Hi Anna, I swa your thoughtful & measured comment on Ed;' site so I followed the link to your site.
    Great article by the way. Your butcher sounds like a remarkable & open minded person. You are a lucky duck indeed!

  3. it's a bit much to put a picture of the poor lamb!!!!


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