Lamb Chop


Fact: China has over 134 million sheep, Australia about 79 million and New Zealand 39 million. International consumption of lamb is over 2 kilo per head per year world wide (world pop is 7.068 billion people) meaning that 14+ billion kilos are consumed annually. Since a dressed lamb weighs about 20 kilos, means that 355 million sheep die each year.

Mum cooked lamb chops a couple of times a week, usually accompanied by mashed potato, mashed pumpkin, beans or peas, she cooked them on a small gas stove that had this sort of single long gas jet thingie over a long handled square pan that had a wire rack in it to hold them up as close to the flame as possible. Must have worked a treat, the chops were always brown and crisp on the outside and the chop tails, all fatty and crispy and yummy. My father most probably butchered the sheep, my grandfather sourced them, my uncle bought them and they were cut down and got ready for sale by my other uncles. It was a family affair



I grabbed some chops from the Supermarket, I just needed a quick meal. I always think of Mum when I grill a chop, I prepared the imported gas stove, cranked up the griller, browned them off in a searingly hot pan on the stove top then burnished them under the griller. I chose the thickest chops I could find. I gave them love! They emerged all browned and dripping with juices and boy, were they tough! I recall with the last restaurant, I would get the lamb from Jonathon and ask him to cut them very thick. Commercial stoves can be pumped up to a serious heat. I cooked them hot and fast and they always went down well.


It made me so bloody cross, I channelled Mum, called on all the skills I have (not many!) and yet they turned out to be vile. What about the poor home cook? I know they have every kitchen gadget, stove, fryer, griller etc. They do not skimp on kitchen aids. But they cannot do what my mother did on a standard 1950’s gas stove, with a single gas griller.

Here is my list of possible theories..

1. Its May and lamb is only lamb at the end of the year when lambs are born. I was cooking 2 tooth or mutton?

2. The sheep were older than most deities and long long past their best before date.

3. They were not table sheep but old wool numbers.

4. The poor animals had been subjected to too much chemical ingestion… hormones etc.

5. My memory is farkucked and I simply need to let go. Realisty is that this is the most likely scenario, memory is such a tease.

I find research into a lot of this stuff deeply sad and depressing, it seems now that we have taken for granted that stock animals destined for the table will have some sort of chemical assistance to get them, bigger, fatter and more ready for us to enjoy the boons of a good dose of chemical. Reading the web sites of industry leaders like Meat and Livestock Corporation, can be very disturbing… try this

Adendum: One week later. I bought some lamb knecks. These are usually a simple treat, not much loved or understood by the public, but given a long slow cook, delicious. These were so fatty, fifteen hours in the oven would not have  removed the fat.

And we are asked to believe and accept this as gospel because? I can’t, I simply cannot accept that enough is known about this whole question of use of chemicals in foods for human ingestion, even though the fact of use over 30 years is supposed mollify us. Yet no one has ever explained why human behaviour has changed. Why for example are young girls coming to their menses a lot earlier? Why has disease like Cancer, Diabetes and the terrible sickness due to increase of the spread of resistant bacteria increased..

I simply don’t accept this whole thing, I should not have to even wonder if my taste buds are in the process of decay, clearly they are, but I am not convinced that my perceptions of food and taste are in any way diminished, memory its true can be a strange and twisted thing.


In the family butchering business, I cannot ever recall breed being mentioned, perhaps it was considered when one of the relatives was buying cattle, seems reasonable that cows used for milking were in the main not suited to eat. Pigs or sheep, I cannot recall. Chooks were certainly not ever categorised, if a chook was killed for the table it was one that had past its prime in egg laying. Most animals were not killed young, no matter what, they were allowed to live a longer life to develop body weight and taste. I never ever saw my father slaughter a small skinny pig, they were always big fat porkers who had lived full lives and had a rich layer of fat and a lot of taste.

Because I question a lot of stuff about food, I have to also be aware that I do so with an open mind and not be judgmental. That’s not easy as in most cases, food is a fundamental part of life and we have grown with it daily for all of our lives. We refine our palates and with them define what is good or not good based on our personal likes and dislikes. I don’t like tripe, I tried and tried, my Mother and Father loved it as does my wife. My own children I suspect have never eaten it. I have cooked it once or twice, to please Jen and also to try and capture the way I saw it cooked one time which was very different to the ‘stuff’ in white sauce my family liked. So no judgement from me on tripe.

I love sheep meat! Lamb when it is lamb, sheep meat of varying ages when it is not lamb. The fact is if you know what it is, you will approach cooking it in different ways. Lamb (from birth to one year) is light on taste, quick to cook, two tooth (also called hogget) is the next step up the age scale, still medium to light taste and can be cooked quite fast, but does benefit from slower longer treatment. Mutton is the old age of sheep, and in the case of my family, they preferred mutton for roasting and stewing.

My family were not shy about using the inside of the sheep and we often had lamb brains just bread crumbed, lamb liver (called Lambs Fry) with bacon onion and mashed potato (as a main course meal) the kidneys would be used in Steak and Kidney pie (I like eating it, but not fond of cooking it). The hearts would be used not for us to eat (in the past they were occasionally stuffed and roasted) but as food for the dog. Strangely it was a smell that I could detect some way from home and until mum had stopped cooking I would not go into the house. Lamb tongue was not something Mum cooked, although she did cook beef tongue. Having said that, my mothers all time favourite disguise for when she tried to get us to eat food, was to drown it in a vat of white sauce. Perhaps I did eat tongue after all.


My question remains unanswered, what is the difference between lamb in the 1960’s to now? I know that for 30 years hormone has been used. I know that marketing has changed dramatically and that major players can now dictate terms. I know that sheep and cattle and I assume pigs are also subjected to feed lots and in the case of sheep, diet-lots to diet them down to ‘lamb’ weight. It would not come as a great surprise to some to hear that some meat animals are never ever allowed to graze or feed on anything natural. It is also of note that cooking methods have changed, some dramatically, my memory could also be wonky.

Greece, Turkey, Morocco, The Middle East, are amongst the greatest consumers of lamb or sheep meat, yet the greatest producer of sheep meat in the world remains China, with the majority of its production exported. Domestic Chinese consumption is small. The countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean with maybe Italy as the exception, consume moderately large amounts of lamb and sheep meat.(see opening paragraph for world consumption) The styles of cooking vary from wood fired ovens to charcoal grills to casseroles and tagines, with the cheaper cuts being wet cooked. The lamb that is consumed there is in the main not bred for any purpose, both the wool and meat are valued equally.

Perhaps my question must remain unanswered, there is no cogent explanation, we have to accept that in order to meet  demands, growers now need to use all means, they are made to conform to demands of consumers. I wonder how many of use would like it if ‘lamb’ was not available twelve months of the year? And yet I can tell you again and again, its not lamb, but like pig meat is never called pig meat because of some perception, always pork, sheep is never called anything but lamb.

But I would like one day to enjoy lamb chops like the Blessed Iris cooked. But that is impossible.


~ by peterwatson on May 26, 2013.

3 Responses to “Lamb Chop”

  1. Love this piece, thank you.

    I know that in Victoria that Anthony at Greenvale Farm is selling some sheep as Jumbuck… Trying hard to get us to understand & I have bought mutton from Hook&Spoon from out Benella way. Both are part if the Vic Accredited Farmer Market Association. Maybe this grassroots marketing and small producers are the best place to start?

  2. Peter,
    The problem with supermarket lamb is its had no time to hang. Many people recount stories of their ancestors hanging lamb hogget or old ewe under a tree and it being the best thing they have tasted. This meat only really exists from smaller producers or butchers who care about the product and are able to hang the carcass for at least a week.
    I know managers of abattoirs and the meat that goes to the supermarket shelves is barely hung for a day. It’s this hanging process which is critical to allow the biological break down of the meat.
    Lamb should be hung for a week. I disagree with comments regarding the view that the older the animal takes a longer cooking time.
    We do a product called jumbuck which is a 4 year old sheep which we dry age for four weeks and I guarantee it is just as tender than lamb with a greater depth of flavour. We have a number of restaurants serving our jumbuck raw. It’s like comparing veal and beef. You can see some examples of what chefs have been doing with our old sheep at


    • I am certain you are right, but it seems symptomatic of todays world. What was fascinating to be was the extraordinary number of sheep in China and they don’t eat much lamb… I guess in the long run, we have also to protect Mr & Mrs Average who are not gourmands, but who have to feed their family and who deserve to get the best they can… seems like we have to keep pressuring the majors to be sure of getting the best.


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