Discover the difference between lamb and sheep in culinary terms and how to bring out the flavors in these meats.
The terms 'lamb' and 'sheep' are sometimes used interchangeably, but it is important to know the difference between the two, especially when it comes to cooking!
The only thing that really sets one apart from the other is age - a lamb is a baby sheep - but when using them in recipes you'll find that they have quite different flavors and textures.
A lamb is essentially a sheep that is less than a year old. Lamb is typically much more in demand when it comes to cooking, as it is particularly tasty and tender. with a fine grain, a pale pink color and a mild flavor.
Sheep meat, also referred to as mutton (ideally 3 years old), has a higher percentage of fat and is very red in color. Its flavor is much stronger than that of lamb and it has a larger grain.
Lamb is far more popular that mutton in the United States, whereas mutton tends to be preferred in parts of Europe and the Middle East.
With lamb being the more popular option in the United States, you will notice it is quite a bit more expensive than mutton! It can be found in pretty much any grocery store. The most popular lamb cuts in the United States are shoulder roast, rack, loin chops and leg of lamb.
Mutton’s game-like flavor lends itself to slow cooking methods such as stewing, which helps to tenderize the meat and enhance the flavor. On the other hand, lamb is delicious grilled, braised or roasted.
Seasoning your lamb or mutton well during the cooking process will help bring out its flavor. Some of the best seasonings to use are:
- Cracked black pepper
- Curry powder
Many Eastern style dishes also feature fruit with lamb or mutton, with both dried and fresh fruits working well. Lamb and mutton pair well with bold fruit flavors, like apricots, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, prunes, raisins and pomegranates.
Lamb is actually considered one of the most wine friendly meats! Here's a guide to a few of the most popular lamb dishes and the best wines to accompany them...
Baby/Milk Fed Lamb
Commonly found served in Spain, Italy and South-West France, this lamb pairs well with a great Bordeaux or Rioja.
Spring Lamb (rare, with herbs and veggies)
Rack of lamb and leg of lamb would fall under this category and they pair extremely well with Bordeaux, Rioja and fruity wines like a Cabernet/Merlot blend or a Chianti.
Typically grilled, lamb chops are complimented with a medium bodied wine like a Chianti or Mecia.
Slow Roasted Lamb or Mutton
A beautiful Rhone or Spanish red wine, like Rioja, pairs beautifully with slow roasted or stewed lamb or mutton.
Tagines are usually packed with flavor and their wonderful aroma pairs beautifully with a Rioja or Pinot Noir.
If your lamb has been marinated in hot spices, you will want a sweeter wine, like Cabernet or Pinotage, to offset the spice. However, if the lamb has been marinated in fresh herbs instead, a Chianti will pair wonderfully.