LAMB

Some think that roast leg of lamb with mint sauce can't be beaten - but in fact there are plenty of other cuts to try. Follow our handy guide to find out how to choose the best quality, the different cuts available and the best way to cook each.

Choosing the best
Recognising good-quality lamb is as important as choosing the right cut. When buying lamb, choose the leanest cuts with firm, creamy-white fat. Avoid those with fat that looks crumbly, brittle and yellowish, as this indicates age.

The colour and flavour of the flesh will vary depending on where the sheep are raised, whether lowlands or hillside or, for the famous pré-salé French lamb, salt marshes. Look for pale pink flesh for a very young lamb, to a light or dark red. As well as pale-coloured flesh, a blue tinge in the knuckle bones indicates that the animal is young.

Breast
This cut is one of the cheapest from lamb, similar in price to scrag end, but is quite versatile. It can be roasted on the bone, which results in a crispy skin. However, if the skin is removed for the joint to be rolled, it must be done properly or the tucked-in pieces will be undercooked. A butcher will be able to do this easily. When breast is boned and rolled, it can be stuffed with the filling of your choice.

Alternatively, many butchers will sell strips of breast which are ideal for barbecues. Well-trimmed meat from this cut is also used for mince, burgers or kebabs.

Chump
Chump is used mostly for chops or, with the bone removed, steaks. They're ideal for grilling or barbecuing. However, it's wise to check how much bone you're getting in the chop as the bone is significantly larger towards the front end of the chump area.

It's also possible to buy larger cuts of chump which can be used as a roasting joint for one or two people.

Leg
This cut of lamb is probably the most versatile, although it's also one of the most expensive, especially when bought as steaks. Leg of lamb makes a very good roast joint, or it can be split into two smaller pieces - the fillet at the top of the leg and the shank towards the foot. The end of the shank is particularly tasty if eaten straight after cooking, rather than left to cool.

If the butcher has removed the bone, leg of lamb can be treated in much the same way as topside or silverside of beef, including being cut into lean steaks. Leg steaks with the bone left in are often called middle leg.

Loin
The loin of lamb is in fact two cuts: best end of neck towards the front of the animal and loin (sometimes known as middle loin or double loin) towards the rear. Loin can be relatively expensive, depending on the level of trimming done by the butcher.

As both cuts come from the back, they yield cutlets which can be grilled in the same way as chops. Best-end cutlets are slightly less juicy than loin chops. In fact, T-bone style chops are also cut from the loin. Further trimming leaves the chops as noisettes - small lamb steaks.

The roast most associated with best-end is the rack of lamb or guard of honour, named because of the effect of the ribs lined up before serving. Bought in this way, the joint can be quite tricky to carve, but any butcher will be happy to chine the joint (take the back bone out to leave easily separable cutlets) or to French trim the meat (also removing the skin).

A more expensive - but much easier to carve - alternative is to buy the loin boned and rolled.

Scrag
Also known as scrag end or neck end, scrag is one of the cheaper cuts of lamb, from the upper part of the neck. This area does not yield large joints of meat and what's produced is often more fatty than other cuts. Consequently, scrag end meat is usually chopped or diced and used in stews and casseroles, although scrag end from new season lamb (in April or May) can be used for a cheap roast joint.

Shoulder
Shoulder is one of the traditional roasting joints, although it's often sold as two separate joints: blade and knuckle, with different major bones and therefore different serving cuts. Today, the knuckle bone itself is becoming more popular as a distinct cut because it's full of flavour when casseroled and served straight away.

Shoulder is relatively costly as a lamb cut, even more so if you buy it boned and rolled (with the loose skin tucked back to make a neat parcel). The price represents the quality of the meat from this cut and the amount of work the butcher has to put in to the preparation.

Many butchers will also bone shoulder and trim off the back fat to sell the meat as lean cubes for curries, kebabs and casseroles.