Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
PINE BLUFF, Ark. – With Christmas so soon after Thanksgiving, many Americans are looking for a different centerpiece for their holiday meal. Consider lamb, suggests Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“Lamb has long been a tradition at Christmas, but it seems to have been forgotten in the homes of many Americans,” he says. “Lamb is delicious and nutritious, but it may be difficult to find because some grocery stores rarely carry it. If you ask for it at the meat counter, sales associates will be happy to order it for you.”
In general, lamb has a higher and heart-healthy polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio than beef. Also, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is lower and healthier in lamb, says Dr. Makuba Lihono, associate professor and nutritionist, UAPB Department of Human Sciences. Lamb is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iron and riboflavin. A 3-ounce serving contains only 175 calories, adds Dr. Lihono.
Most lambs have been sold by July, and few are available in December so the Christmas market is a real opportunity, says Dr. Fernandez.
Milk-fed Christmas lambs should weigh between 40 to 60 pounds. Assuming a 7 pound birth weight and an average growth rate of one-half pound per day, producers need to lamb in mid-September for this market. Ewes should be bred in early to mid-April, which can be a difficult time to do so.
Some breeds of sheep, such as Dorset, Rambouillet, Dorpers and Katahdins, are easier to breed out of season than others. Ewes should be in good body condition to improve pregnancy rates.
The following is an easy recipe, courtesy of the American Lamb Board www.americanlamb.com and recommended by Dr. Fernandez.
Mediterranean Stuffed Lamb Leg
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
¼ cup chopped green onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup spinach leaves, shredded
¼ cup fresh basil, shredded
2 Tablespoons finely chopped sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons lemon pepper, divided
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
4 to 5 pounds American Lamb leg, bones and rolled
In medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Cook onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Mix in spinach, basil, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and 1 teaspoon lemon pepper. Cook additional 2 to 3 minutes until spinach is wilted. Mix in feta cheese; set aside.
Remove netting or strings from leg of lamb and open. Flatten and place stuffing in center of meat; roll back and re-tie with string. Brush with 2 teaspoons olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon lemon pepper.
Place leg on rack in roasting pan and roast for approximately 2 hours at 325 degrees to desired degree of doneness: 145 F for medium rare, 160 F for medium or 170 for well done. Let roast stand covered 10 minutes before slicing. The internal temperature will rise approximately 10 degrees.
If a boneless leg is unavailable in the meat case, you can ask the supermarket butcher to bone a leg for you, says Dr. Fernandez.
Servings: 8 to 10
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Nutritional Data: Calories 434 g, Protein 35g, Carbohydrates 2g, Total Fat 31g, Calories from Fat 65 percent mg, Cholesterol 136 mg, Fiber 0 mg, Sodium 271 mg, Niacin 9mg, Vitamin B6: 0.25 mcg, Vitamin B12 4mg, Iron 3mg, Zinc 6.
Producers may be interested in two Cooperative Extension fact sheets: FSA 9611 “Feeding Ewes to Maximize Reproductive Success” and FSA 9610 “Body Condition Scoring of Sheep.” For more information, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214.