I have written this post about mutton and how to cook it as I am fed up with eating lamb that has no taste and has chops so small even the cat thinks it’s been had; also the meat that comes from my Norfolk Horn sheep is either hoggett or mutton. You will find some recipes I have unabashedly taken straight from ‘Mutton Renaissance‘ and also off the web. So what is ‘mutton’? Well, it’s all a bit confusing, but in general, in the UK, lamb is a sheep up to 12 months old ( although some think it should be 6 months) , while down under it refers to recently born sheep ( about a month old). Unfortunately, most think anything older than 12 months is mutton, but really it should be called hoggett from 12-24 months (mostly tender meat but can be a bit tougher). After that it’s called mutton and apparently can be either a castrated male (wether) or a ewe. Rams don’t seem to be on any list, shame really as they can be very good. The male sheep I have are not castrated but still taste very good (I think old ram, especially those killed during the breeding season, will smell strongly). One observation I have noted is that, when butchering my rams and ewes (18 month old) , some had much darker meat and this dark meat is a good indication that the sheep should be called mutton and would be probably be the reason for the stronger flavours as with most dark red game meat. This meat is a lot tougher so can’t be pan-fried or the like but needs cooking slowly in stews, casseroles, pot-roasts etc.
Most modern sheep have been bred to grow quickly in a high input farming system (lots of inorganic fertiliser and pesticides etc). Nothing wrong with that except that the small portions you get from the butchered lambs do not make a meal for a man unless you eat a whole one! The killing weight of a live lamb should be 40kg and this will give you a dead bodyweight of 20kg which the supermarkets love and the shoppers too, as it’s easy to cook. On the other hand, the rare breeds do not do so well in high input farming systems- they are much better in an extensive low input farming system, but it’s much harder to get them to a 40kg killing weight within 12 months. As already mentioned, the meat from sheep older than 18 months will be a bit tougher with bigger joints and bigger chops and cutlets etc but will have much more flavour. It’s worth noting that the carcasses of mutton are usually hung for much longer- even as long as a month (well it should be, but that doesn’t happen much now). Of course this would be far too long for the supermarkets to turn a quick profit and probably another reason why they will not sell mutton.
My Norfolk Horns are rare breed sheep and, as I have said, it’s difficult to get them to 40kg within 12 months. I would think I would be lucky to get to 25% of the desired weight in that time. So for me it’s best to keep them until over a year old and perhaps nearly two years old (18 months is best). The trouble with keeping them longer and getting a good carcass with the right amount of fat on it, is that they can then weigh 60-80kg live weight which makes for a dead weight of 30-40kg and produce rather large joints that need further butchery (which the supermarkets don’t like either) so unfortunately, you get lower prices for the sheep at the livestock markets. Another thing about sheep older than 12 months is that the carcass has to be cut in half from neck to tail so that the spinal cord can be removed- this all adds cost and makes it harder to grow good quality hoggett and mutton that pays. I take my sheep to Evans in Bedford and it costs around £30 depending, more or less, on how you want it butchered.
Phenomenally versatile, real aged mutton needs careful cooking. This is not meat for flash-fry enthusiasts, but generally benefits from long slow cooking. It makes some of the tastiest roasts you will find or can be cubed for the ultimate curry, minced for authentic shepherd’s pies or even mutton/ram burgers and casseroled using wonderful mutton leg steaks. Much underestimated, and unfortunately much maligned, mutton really should be more widely used. Once tried, it’s hard to resist.
The filling for this simple pie is slow-cooked to help the flavours of the mutton and the vegetables combine. Serve on a cold day with buttered cabbage, boiled potatoes or mashed swede and enjoy with a fruity red wine.
- 1kg (2.2lb) neck fillet of mutton, cut into rough 2cm pieces
- Plain flour for dusting
- 2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
- Vegetable oil for frying
- A small sprig of rosemary
- Salt & Freshly ground black pepper
- 1.5 litres (21/2 pints) chicken or lamb stock
- 425g (1lb) turnips, peeled and cut into rough 2-3 cm chunks
- 350g (12oz) puff pastry, rolled to about 1cm (1/2 cm) thick
- 1 egg, beaten
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6, 400°C.
- Season the pieces of mutton and dust generously with about a tbsp or so of flour.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and fry the pieces of mutton and onions without colouring them too much, for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the rosemary and stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 11/2 -2 hours until the mutton is soft and tender.
- Add the turnips. Cover with a lid and add a little boiled water if necessary. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the turnips are cooked. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
- Meanwhile cut the pastry a little larger than the pie dish or dishes if you are making individual pies. 6 When the mutton mixture is cooled transfer it to your pie dish.
- Brush the edges of the pastry with some egg and lay the pastry on the dish, pressing the edges onto the rim.
- Cut a slit about 2-3cms (1”) in the centre to let the steam out or for a larger pie use a pie funnel. 9 Bake the pie for 40-45 minutes until golden.
Like mutton, chunky home-made soups are gaining a new following. This recipe combines both trends in a warming broth ideal for chilly days. It requires some crusty bread and little else.
- 1kg (2.2lb) 1/2 leg of mutton with bone removed
- 3 litres (5 1/4 pints) fresh lamb stock or made with good quality cubes
- 225g (8oz) barley
- 175g (6oz) green and yellow split peas
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 leek, finely chopped
- 2 big carrots, finely chopped
- 3 small turnips, finely chopped
- 1/2 swede, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- Oil for frying
- 50g (2oz) chopped parsley to garnish
- Wash the pulses and soak overnight.
- Place the mutton in a pan and cover with the stock. Cook for approximately 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender. Top up the pan with water if necessary to ensure the meat remains covered. Skim off any crust that forms on the surface.
- Remove meat from the stock and cut into chunks when it is cool enough to handle.
- In another large pan heat a little oil and sweat off the finely chopped vegetables until soft then add the barley, split peas and the stock from the mutton pan.
- Add the diced meat to the vegetables, adjust the seasoning and cook for a further 30 minutes. Finish with chopped parsley.
A great feast for four, this recipe is full of autumnal flavours. Try to find a dry cider made from a single variety of apple. Serve with a celeriac and potato puree and a glass of the cider.
- 4 large loin or best end chops, trimmed of most of the fat
- 2 leeks sliced into 1cm (0.5”) rounds
- 16 baby turnips
- 16 baby carrots
- 16 shallots
- 5ml (1 tsp) fresh picked thyme
- black pepper
- Oil for frying
- 450ml (3/4 pint) dry cider
- 5ml (1 tsp) Demerara sugar
- 5ml (1 tsp) tomato puree
- 15ml (1 tbsp) shredded flat parsley
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan and gently cook the leeks until lightly coloured and slightly soft.
- Place leeks in a deep metal or earthenware casserole dish with tight fitting lid and set aside.
- Now cook the shallots and the turnips in the frying pan until both are golden brown. Remove from the frying pan and keep to one side.
- Dust the cutlets with plain flour. Gently seal the meat in the frying pan until well coloured. Do not burn the flour.
- Place the cutlets on top of the leeks in the casserole dish.
- Deglaze the frying pan with a splash of the cider. Add the tomato puree to this liquid, then the sugar to balance the acidity of the cider. Pour this liquid over the lamb.
- Season well with salt and pepper and enough cider to just cover the cutlets.
- Cover and cook in a medium oven for 30 minutes, then add the turnips, shallots and carrots and cook for a further 30-40 minutes.
- Skim any fat off the remaining liquid, check the vegetables are cooked sufficiently, and adjust seasoning. Stir in the parsley.
This is one of the classic ways to cook mutton; the gentle poaching enables the meat to reach optimum tenderness. Wow your friends by serving it at a dinner party with some red cabbage and baby root veg.
- 2kg (4lb,6oz) 1/2 leg of mutton (bone-in)
- 4 large Spanish onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 generous tsp sea salt
- 4 bay leaves
- 5ml (1tsp) whole black peppercorns
- 1/4 stick cinnamon
- zest of 1 orange
- 2 litres (3 1/2 pints) light chicken stock
- 1 bottle (750ml) dry white wine
- 350g (12oz) unsalted butter
- 60 ml (4tbsp) finely chopped shallots
- 60 ml (4 tbsp) capers
- 600ml (1pt) double cream.
- Place the mutton into a large saucepan and bury it in the sliced onions. Add the salt. Tie the bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and orange zest in a piece of muslin and add this to the pan with half of the wine.
- Cover with the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Skim off the crust that forms on the surface with a spoon.
- Simmer gently for approximately 2 hours or until tender.
- After 1 hour, take a saucepan and melt 150g (6oz) of the butter, add the shallots and capers and cook gently until softened then turn up the heat to lightly colour the shallots.
- Add the rest of the wine and cook briskly until the liquid reduces by half. Draw off approximately 1 litre (2 pints) of the poaching liquor from the mutton pan and add it to the capers and shallots. Bring this to the boil and reduce by half. Add the double cream and bring back to the boil. Reduce the mixture further until you achieve a glossy cream gravy. Adjust seasoning and keep warm.
- When the mutton is ready, transfer to a serving dish, cover and keep warm. Strain the poaching liquid from the onions but retain.
- Heat a large frying pan and melt the remaining butter until foaming. Add the drained onions and fry briskly until they turn golden and have begun to caramelise.
- Place some of the golden onions onto a plate and slice the mutton finely on top of it. Garnish with a ladling of the caper cream sauce. Note: The retained poaching liquid can be used to make a delicious soup.
A hearty mid-week supper that’s delicious served on its own or with some creamy mash to soak up the juices.
For the Stew
- 1kg (2.2lb) diced leg of mutton
- 2 celery stalks, halved
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half
- 1/2 small swede, cut into 12 chunks
- 6 shallots, peeled
- 6 small turnips, scrubbed but not peeled
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 litre (13/4 pints) lamb stock made with 2 good quality stock cubes
For the Cobbler top
- 350g (12oz) self raising flour
- 100g (4oz) butter, diced
- 50g (2oz) capers, chopped
- 10g (1/2 oz) parsley, chopped
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped
- 30ml (2 tbsp) plain natural yoghurt
- mixed with 70ml (5 tbsp) cold water.
- Place the mutton in a large casserole or pan with the vegetables and herbs.
- Add peppercorns and season with salt.
- Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1 hour.
- To make the cobbler rub the fat and the flour together.
- Stir in the capers, parsley, onions and pepper.
- Add enough of the yoghurt and water mix to make a soft, pliable dough.
- Roll dough to 2.5cm (1”) thick and cut into 12 rounds or wedges. Place on top of the mutton.
- Bake at 200°C, Gas 6, 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until the cobbler is golden brown
A full flavoured meal to fill you up after a hard days work
- 4×350 g mutton or lamb shanks
- 100 g plain flour
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 50 g butter
- 4 carrots, finely chopped
- head celery, finely chopped
- 12 shallots, finely chopped
- 200 g wild mushrooms, finely sliced
- 400 ml madeira
- 400 ml red wine
- 2 large oranges, zest and juice
- 600 ml lamb stock
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 bunch parsley
For the champ
For the curly kale
- 2 Spanish onions, finely sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 head curly kale, roughly choppedMethod1. Preheat oven to 160C/gas 3.2. Dust the mutton shanks with seasoned flour and the cep powder.
- 3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a roasting tin on the hob and lightly brown the mutton shanks on all sides. Remove and put to one side.4. Tip the chopped vegetables into the roasting tray and soften gently in the fat, then add the mushrooms and lightly colour. Pour in the Madeira, the wine, the orange zest and juice and the lamb stock.5. Put the shanks back into the liquid with the thyme and season. Cover with foil and cook slowly in the oven for 3 hours.6. Once cooked, remove the mutton from the roasting tin, skim the excess fat off the sauce and reduce the cooking liquid by half on the hob for about 10 minutes. Once reduced, turn off the heat, put the mutton back into the liquid so that it stays warm and cooks to a glaze.7. For the champ, bring the milk to the boil with the chopped spring onion. Remove from the heat and add the mashed potatoes, together with the butter, ground white pepper and a pinch of salt.8. For the curly kale, soften the onion with olive oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the garlic and kale and toss through for 2 minutes. Add a ladle of the mutton stock and gently simmer for 5 minutes.9. To serve, just place a mutton shank on each plate, with a little champ and curly kale on the side and the sauce poured over.
How about a good spicy curry from Nigella Lawson’s book ?
45g ghee or butter
350g onions, roughly chopped
2.5cm piece ginger
3 cloves garlic
3 small red chillies (can de-seed if less heat is required) – (or use a couple of teaspoons of chili paste like I have before)
1 tsp nigella (kalonji) seeds
3 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp black pepper
1kg lamb (neck or casserole type lamb), cut into large cubes (can also use beef)
150ml plain yoghurt
1 tspns salt
2 tblsps ground almonds
1 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsps fresh coriander
1. Heat half the ghee/butter in a large pan. Place the onions, ginger, garlic and chillies in a processor until finely chopped then tip into the hot pan.2. Cook for 5 minutes until softened then remove and set aside in a bowl.3. Heat remaining ghee/butter and add the nigella seeds, coriander, garam masala, turmeric and pepper; fry for a minute.4. Turn up the heat and add the lamb/beef to brown.5. Add the onion mixture back into the pan along with the yoghurt and 160ml water.6. Stir in the salt and bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and gently cook for 1 to 1 and a half hours until tender. Remove the lid and stir occasionally. You can also put this in a casserole dish, then into the oven to cook slowly at 160 degrees for 1 and a half hours instead of cooking on the stove top – or you can also put this in the slow cooker. I generally freeze half the mixture at this point for another day.7. When the meat is nice and tender, stir through the ground almonds, coriander and lemon juice.
8. Serve with a dob of yoghurt and basmati rice. I also serve with a roti (flat bread) to mop up the juices
Slow cooking produces meltingly tender mutton and a crowd pleasing tagine.
For the tagine
- 1 mutton shoulder, on the bone
- olive oil, for rubbing
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 pinches saffron strands
- 2 preserved lemon rinds, quartered, flesh discarded
- 1 head garlic
- 2 x 400g/14oz cans chopped tomatoes
- 4 red onions
- 2 red chillies
- 600ml/1 pint lamb stock
- To Serve
- Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
- For the tagine, rub the mutton shoulder with olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a large lidded casserole over a high heat and fry the shoulder on all sides, or until golden-brown all over. Add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, star anise, cinnamon stick, saffron, lemon rinds, garlic, chillies, chopped tomatoes and stock.
- Cover the casserole with a lid and place into the oven to cook for 3 hours, or until the lamb is meltingly tender.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and season the braising liquid with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- To serve, roughly chop the coriander and mint and stir into the tagine. Drizzle over some olive oil and serve with couscous.
Toad in the hole anyone?