How to Chop Up Sheep ~ Part 1

It's all in the cutting, and don't be cut if your cutlets don't make the cut

Extract from Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management c~1861

THE DIFFERENCE in quality of the flesh in various breeds is a well-established fact, not alone in flavor, but also in tenderness; and that the nature of the pasture on which the sheep is fed influences the flavor of the meat, is equally certain, and shown in the estimation in which those flocks are held which have grazed on the thymy heath of Bamstead in Sussex.

It is also a well-established truth, that the larger the frame of the animal, the coarser is the meat, and that small bones are both guarantees for the fineness of the breed and the delicacy of the flesh.

The sex too has much to do in determining the quality of the meat; in the males, the lean is closer in fibre, deeper in co lour, harder in texture, less juicy, and freer from fat, than in the female, and is consequently tougher and more difficult of digestion; but probably age, and the character of the pasturage on which they are reared, has, more than any other cause, an influence on the quality and tenderness of the meat.

THE MODE of slaughtering sheep is perhaps as humane and expeditious a process as could be adopted to attain the objects sought: the animal being laid on its side in a sort of concave stool, the butcher, while pressing the body with his knee, transfixes the throat near the angle of the jaw, passing his knife between the windpipe and bones of the neck; thus dividing the jugulars, carotids, and large vessels, the death being very rapid from such a haemorrhage.

The MANNER of cutting up, or, as it is called, dressing the carcase is very simple, and as butchers have found that much skewering back, doubling one part over another, or scoring the inner cuticle or fell, tends to spoil the meat and shorten the time it would otherwise keep, they avoid all such treatment entirely.

The carcase when flayed (which operation is performed while yet warm), the sheep when hung up and the head removed, presents the profile shown in our cut; the small numerals indicating the parts or joints into which one half of the animal is cut.

After separating the hind from the fore quarters, with eleven ribs to the latter, the quarters are usually subdivided into the leg, the loin - the two, when cut in one piece, being called the saddle. Fore quarter: the shoulder; and the neck; then, being called for distinction, the scrag, which is generally afterwards separated from the lower and better joint; finally, the breast. The haunch of mutton, so often served at public dinners and special entertainments, comprises all the leg and so much of the loin, short of the ribs or lap.

FROM THE LARGE PROPORTION of moistures or fluids contained in the tissues of all young animals, the flesh of lamb and veal is much more prone, in close, damp weather, to become tainted and spoil than the flesh of the more mature, drier, and closer-textured beef and mutton.

Among epicures, the most delicious sorts of lamb are those of the South-Down breed, known by their black feet; and of these, those which have been exclusively suckled on the milk of the parent ewe, are considered the finest. Next to these in estimation are those fed on the milk of several dams, and last of all, though the fattest, the grass-fed lamb; this, however, implies an age much greater than either of the others.

LAMB, in the early part of the season, however reared, is generally sold in quarters, divided with eleven ribs to the forequarter; but, as the season advances, these are subdivided into two, and the hind-quarter in the same manner; the first consisting of the shoulder, and the neck and breast; the latter, of the leg and the loin. As lamb, from the juicy nature of its flesh, is especially liable to spoil in unfavourable weather, it should be frequently wiped, so as to remove any moisture that may form on it. 

Or, since this is 150 years after penning the article, you might try a refrigerator.

IN THE PURCHASING of lamb for the table, there are certain signs by which the experienced are able to form an accurate opinion whether the animal has been lately slaughtered, and whether the joints possess that condition of fibre indicative of good and wholesome meat.

The first of these doubts may be solved satisfactorily by the bright and dilated appearance of the eye; the quality of the fore-quarter can always be guaranteed by the blue or healthy ruddiness of the jugular, or vein of the neck; while the rigidity of the knuckle, and the firm, compact feel of the kidney, will answer in an equally positive manner for the integrity of the hind-quarter.

Any of these techniques will bring looks of astonishment from your local butcher, but do not be deflected from your mission.  

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