Sheep were the first animals to be domesticated by humans, probably 13,000 years ago by nomads in Central Asia. They provided food (milk and meat) and clothing (leather and wool). From then on, sheep became the animals that always accompanied different tribes during their journeys all around the world.
Their bones have been found everywhere. Lamb plays a central role in a large number of ancient legends pre-dating the monotheistic religions, which in turn have established rituals involving the Paschal lamb (the origin of the term Paschaline, which is found in certain recipes) and the lamb sacrificed at the end of Ramadan.
Cooking with lamb in the Middle East dates back thousands of years.
In the Middle Ages, flocks were important everywhere. The French word for lamb, agneau, appeared in the 13th century. The word for sheep, mouton, had appeared earlier, in the 10th century, derived from the Gallic word multo, which came from the Welsh word molit. The word for ewe, brebis, dates from the end of the 11th century as a derivative of the Latin word berbis.
Sheep, and therefore lambs, were introduced into Latin America by the Conquistadors in the 15th century. They became popular and were bred there, although they were not as important as other livestock in the United States and Canada.
Sheep and lambs are now found on every continent. There are more than 200 breeds resulting from crossbreeding carried out by humans to meet their needs for meat, milk, and wool.
There are great differences in quality of the meat and flavor, depending on the breed, geographical conditions, climate, and types of feed on which the lambs are raised.
Generally speaking, the meat should have a bright white or pinkish appearance; dry, firm, and white or translucent fat; and a pleasant smell.
Lamb is sold fresh or frozen and comes from France, Great Britain, and New Zealand.
All lamb cuts and offal are used in cooking. The styles of preparation and cooking depend on which ones are used:
- Roast: rack of lamb, shoulder, leg of lamb, leg and shank, saddle
- Grilled or pan-fried: loin chops, épigramme, brochettes, tenderloin
- Braised: shoulder, leg of lamb, breast, short ribs
- Boiled: leg of lamb
Lamb is cooked rare (63ºC core temperature), medium rare (68ºC) and medium (75ºC).
Lamb is cooked throughout the world. In Greece, the leg is often marinated in wine with garlic and aromatics. It is cooked in tagines in North Africa and in yaknets in Lebanon, with nuts and vegetables. It is served with couscous. In India, the leg is coated in a spice puree, while other cuts are prepared in curries and with yogurt. In Malaysia, lamb is often cooked in coconut milk. In Russia it is prepared in a soup with cabbage and other vegetables.
In the refrigerator or cool room at 3–5ºC for 2–3 days, cuts always wrapped to prevent from drying out.
As with all meats, lamb is rich in proteins. It also contains a lot of lipids (fat), to a greater or lesser extent depending on the cut: primal cuts (leg, sirloin, loin, shoulder) have much less fat than the others.
Lamb fat is rich in saturated fatty acids. Cholesterol is present, particularly in certain organs where it abounds – the brain above all, and the kidneys.
This is why cooking with butter (which contains a great deal of saturated fatty acids) is not particularly recommended.
Lamb also contains B group vitamins. It also provides minerals, particularly phosphorous, but also iron and small amounts of calcium and magnesium.