I prefer shoulder of lamb to leg of lamb. There. I said it. And you know what? It feels good to admit that, my people. It feels really good. Here’s why: consider our sheep. Because they are free-range, they spend their days walking around the Karoo, looking for food. They spend their days exercising. Their shoulders carry more weight than their legs as they do this, roaming around for hours at a time. What does that mean? Really muscular, well-developed shoulders, everyone. And legs that don’t quite match up. That’s right, just like the Joburg boets that hit Plett in December, these animals skipped leg day at the gym. Their legs do less work than their shoulders every day. “But wait, doesn’t this mean leg of lamb is more tender than shoulder of lamb?” Good question, my guy. And yes; it does mean that. But so what? Those muscular shoulders are so much richer. So much more complex. So much…tastier. All that muscle can be broken down by slow cooking. A shredded shoulder is sticky and gelatinous and awesome and just can’t be replicated with a leg of lamb. (Disclaimer: I dig leg of lamb guys. I do. Roasted fast, served pink. Please don’t forget that).
This weekend, when you swing by the butcher shop and you’re just shooting the breeze with whichever impossibly handsome FFMM staff member is there on the day, do not forget about the shoulder of lamb. You may have come for the leg but allow him to sway you. Open your mind. Look into his eyes and let him whisper to you about why you should leave with shoulder. Picture me clapping enthusiastically as you do this.
To seal the deal, here are five ways I’d consider using shoulder of lamb. If any of these appeal, please feel free to pre-order them specifically prepped for you.
1. Kibbeh Nayeh. Whoah, what now? Relax. This is just a fancy way of saying “yes, it’s fine to eat raw lamb”. We have the Lebanese to thank for this. By mincing the lamb carefully and very fine, you’re left with the perfect texture for this dish. You’ll need a butcher who knows what they’re doing here - you want the mouthfeel of the muscular shoulder for this dish, without fat and gristle. So ask for lean shoulder meat. It will require hardly work at home. Simply mix it through with bulghur wheat and things like cayenne pepper, cinnamon, five spice and fresh mint. Like tartare, quantities are up to you. Just taste and adjust, Taste and adjust.
2. Lamb spag bol. I know. I know. Why would we miss with a good thing? Trust me on this one. Next time the spag bol craving hits, try it with a pack of lamb mince instead. Extra richness. Extra fat coating every piece of pasta. Extra high fives.
3. Lamb tacos. Rub the shoulder all over with dried chilli flakes, cumin and salt. Add a splash of stock and a tin of tomatoes to a deep dish or baking try and settle the lamb shoulder in there. Cook - covered - very, very gently (like 140 Degrees Celsius) until meat is pulling away from the bone. This should be five hours or so. Remove and allow meat to cool. Pull it and shred. Mix with rendered fat and tomatoes, reducing on a stovetop if necessary. Serve on tacos, with all of the trimmings.
4. Lamb burgers. Nothing quite like shaping, grilling and serving your own burgers. With lamb, you open yourself to a bunch of toppings. Baba ganoush is perfect. Salsa verde is perfect. Cumin mixed through yoghurt is perfect. Pickled onions are perfect. Lamb burgers are perfect. And shoulders? They have the exact meat:fat ratio for you’re looking for. Tell your butcher you want to make lamb burgers. Let him/her do the rest for you.
5. Curry night. Lamb curry is brilliant. We know that. But ask your butcher to cut up a shoulder (leaving it on the bone) and you’ll be one step ahead of your mate, using the wrong cut. Toast spices, brown lamb, add stock, stick in a low oven. Drink beer for a few hours. Eezy peezy.