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How-To

Cook Lamb Slowly for Tender Texture

For big flavor and meltingly tender meat, start with an overlooked cut—lamb shoulder

Fine Cooking Issue 50
Photos: Amy Albert
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When it comes to cooking lamb for dinner, shoulder probably isn’t the cut you’d think of first. (You might say rack, leg, or rib chops, right?) But for me, inexpensive cuts like lamb shoulder are the unsung heroes of the butcher case. They’re richer in flavor than other cuts, and the relaxed pace of braising or slow roasting that they require is just the way I like to cook on my days off work as a winery chef.

Try a shoulder roast or shoulder chops

The lamb shoulder cuts you’re most likely to find at the supermarket or butcher are shoulder roast and shoulder chops.

A boneless lamb shoulder roast weighs about three pounds and easily feeds six to eight. (You may need to call in advance to have the butcher bone the roast.) I like to fill shoulder roasts with a savory stuffing, as in my recipe for Roast Lamb Shoulder Stuffed with Sausage & Spinach. For help in working with this cut of meat, see How to trim, stuff, and roll a lamb shoulder

Lamb shoulder chops are sold as either blade chops or shoulder arm chops. Both are tasty, though I prefer shoulder blade chops because arm chops tend to curl up around the bone when I brown them before braising. Try to choose chops that aren’t cut too thin—they should be about 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

High-heat cooking won’t give these cuts of meat the time they need to soften, so stay away from grilling, broiling, or roasting at high temperatures. Except for an initial sear in a hot skillet or first blast of high heat during roasting, these cuts-benefit from low heat and moist cooking over a long period of time, which allows the meat’s connective tissue to become tender and release its rich flavor. That’s one of the things I love best about cooking lamb shoulder—a long, slow cooking time that gives me an opportunity to build those layers of flavor.

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