From head to tail, here is the breakdown of how I butchered and used every single part of an entire spring lamb to feed about 25 people. The lamb weighed 30 pounds, which means I allowed about a pound, give or take, of hanging weight per person.
Before I even finished fabricating the various cuts of lamb for a party of 18 people, Chelsea and I enjoyed a traditional Greek Easter soup made from the head, neck, and offal of the lamb, accompanied by a quick-chilled pate/sausage flecked with the sweetbreads. My friend Bruce of the Chicago Green Roof Growers blog accompanied me during the butchering of the lamb. After our session, I sent him home with a boned, rolled, and tied leg of lamb and some bones. Bruce told me that he and his “partners in green-roofing,” Art and Heidi, roasted the leg and marveled at its flavor and tenderness, and wondered why beef and pork get to hog all of the attention (my pun). Bruce told me that he would be preparing Paul Bertolli’s “Pici with Lamb Sugo” with the broth that he made from the bones.
Bruce and I had shared some photos and techniques about lamb butchery with each other via email. Right before our scheduled butchery day he forwarded me a blog post entitled “Baby Lamb” from the “Road To…” blog by Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats. Farr documents the de-boning of an entire baby lamb in his post and stuffs the loin and belly portion with chunks of meat from the shoulder, similarly to how one would prepare a porchetta. I decided that an interpretation of Farr’s process would be a good way to demonstrate some basic butchery techniques while providing me with a finished product that would be easy to store, roast, and serve for a large party.
I began the butchery process by removing the head and neck of the lamb. I soaked the head in warm saltwater for about an hour and then simmered it with the neck for several hours. The recipe for the soup that I made with the head and neck is here.
Next, I removed the tenderloins from inside the lamb cavity along with the liver, heart, kidneys, and the leaf lard that was attached to the kidneys. I froze the leaf lard in order to make it easy to mince and later added it to the fresh “sausage” that I made from the shoulder meat.
After sawing off the lower legs, I removed the shoulders. One shoulder was de-boned, the meat finely minced by hand and combined with shallot, thyme, garlic, salt, and minced leaf lard to make a very mild sausage to be stuffed into the boneless loin portion. The other shoulder was de-boned into one piece, which was then cut in half, to be rolled into the boneless loin portion along with the sausage.
Next, the legs were removed. One leg was de-boned, rolled, and tied, to be roasted by Bruce, and the other leg was simply marinated and roasted on Easter Sunday.
Finally, the saddle was carefully de-boned into the boneless loin and belly portions.
As you can see, butchering an entire carcass can provide you with many different possibilities. Chelsea and I enjoyed the Easter soup last Thursday and will most likely be preparing a different kind of soup from the leg shank and bones and the few scraps of leftover meat tonight (the Wednesday after Easter). Last night we had a simple bowl of leftover meat and potatoes reheated with the delicious Swiss chard that our friend Rebecca prepared for Easter and some “teeny-tiny potatoes.” Tonight’s soup will most likely be enough for a family of four or the two of us for two days. At some point I grilled a stuffed portion of lamb belly for a late-night dinner as well. That’s the beauty of whole animal cookery. See all of the lamb butchery photos here.