Assorted Livestock 10: Whole Sheep (全羊)

There are innumerable recipes for preparing the whole sheep, but out of all these different preparations there are only about eighteen or nineteen that can be considered edible. The skill of cooking sheep whole is quite esoteric, much like that of slaying dragons, as such it is difficult for a home cook to master. When the whole sheep is served-up in a large dish or a bowl, one should be able to enjoy the distinct flavours of all cuts of meat from the animal, only then can the dish be considered a success.


A whole sheep with amusing names for some of its cuts, courtesy of the Brits. (Credit: GameKeeper)

The reason why people developed “cuts of meat” instead of hacking the animal up into random chunks is simple: each muscle group, each cut, has a different texture, toughness, and requires cooking times if not completely different cooking techniques altogether. What this also means is that when you decide to cook meat based on cuts, you have have primed yourself for success, while if you cook an animal whole you are always at the knife’s edge of failure and waste.

To illustrate how one can screw things up when cooking a whole animal, one only needs to look to the bemoaned roast chicken. While this item is now ubiquitous in the Western world, enjoyable or edible specimens are few and far between. At our present time, roast chickens, whether you buy them at a big box store, some ridiculous chicken chain, or even small restaurants, are typically the same depressingly dry carcasses. Which also explains why many places serve them amply with sauce and gravy to poorly disguise that they are serving you desiccated meat. A whole roast chicken with juicy legs and breast is uncommon indeed.

If cooking something as small as a chicken can be somewhat of a challenge, it should not be surprising that cooking whole animals becomes more difficult the bigger it is. While a well roasted chicken is not completely impossible to find, a well roasted turkey or goose can be considered rare enough that one reminisces about the last time one had one. For me, that last good chicken I had was half a year ago and turkey about fifteen years back. Given this trend, I can imagine how thoroughly impossible it would be to find a well cooked whole sheep in a lifetime.

And even if it was well prepared and one was lucky enough to have it, could a cooked whole sheep rival the chopped up mutton cuts found in a simple Sup Kambing, Karahi Gosht, or Yangrouchuan? I highly doubt it.


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