How do I buy the right leg of lamb?
When we set out to develop our Garlic-Roasted Leg of Lamb recipe, we figured shopping would be the least of our worries. A leg of lamb is a leg of lamb, right? Not so fast.
For starters, an entire leg of lamb consists of three main parts: Up near the hip is the butt end (which includes the sirloin, or hip meat); the bottom part is the shank end, with the shank (or ankle) at the very bottom. For our recipe, we wanted a boneless cut, and we also asked for the shank end, which was the easiest to work with and yielded almost three times as much meat.
But after receiving several blank stares—as well as an odd collection of diverse cuts of meat—from butchers, we realized that our nomenclature was getting lost in translation at the meat counter. Sometimes we wound up with just the shank itself and sometimes a strange, semiboneless hybrid of the shank end and butt end, replete with extra joints and muscles for us to navigate.
To avoid confusion and to eliminate the risk of running into regional differences in labeling, we recommend forgoing the shorthand terminology and just spelling it out for your butcher. After extensive research, we found that you can't go wrong asking for "a whole boneless leg of lamb, but without the sirloin attached." This approach is wordy, but worth it.
An American leg of lamb is almost always larger and less gamy than its Australian or New Zealand counterparts.
Even butchers get confused by lamb terminology. The meatier shank end is better. Ask for a whole boneless leg of lamb, but without the sirloin attached.