Unusual Ingredient of the Week - Mutton

That’s right, mutton, the meat that your grandparents used to have for Sunday Lunch. Call it Mutton, Hogget or a grown up Lamb, after years of being relegated to your grans dining table, this meat is bound for a revival.
Mutton is highly esteemed in North African, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine but curiously went out of fashion in the UK, along with whitebait and sherry served in the hollow of an avocado, some time in the 70s.
Fortunately though, there is a small but ever increasing group of organic farmers who are leaving the lambs to graze on pastures green for much longer than has been typically traditional: hogget for a year and mutton for 18 months. Not only this but a new campaign, spearheaded by Prince Charles, called Mutton Renaissance is also causing major ripples within the restaurant industry.
What this extra time spent grazing and growing in lush green fields achieves is a fattier meat that is much darker in colour and much richer in flavour. It is best suited to long, gently braising which allows the tough proteins in the meat to break down and become meltingly tender.
Whilst the flavour is stronger than lamb, it is not gamily so, it resembles braised beef but with a more solid and satisfying taste.
I recently purchased an underused cut of Mutton (or Lamb for that matter), rolled breast, from the Well Hung Meat Company where it was very reasonably priced. Other cuts of Mutton currently available are the more common leg, chops and shoulder, as well as pre-packed diced. All of Well Hungs mutton is over 18 months old and hung for 2 weeks, which enhances its wonderful flavour. I am already planning a dinner party whereby the edible guest of honour is a Seven Hour Cooked Leg of Mutton.
Because I chose the rolled breast of lamb, I thought that a gentle daube or pot roast method of cooking would be perfect. I consulted several recipe books and some online advice before settling on Judy Rodgers sage-like advice in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.
Rodgers advice is never less than impeccable and trustworthy. She doesn’t patronise the reader with the “Look, one day you might be able to be almost (but not quite) as brilliant as me in the kitchen!” mentality that so many chefs’ books exude. She simply wants the home cook to make the most of ingredients we have in our kitchens and prepare them in the best way to extract the maximum flavour from them. And after all, what is the point of a huge ego without ingredients?
I tweaked the original recipe only slightly to suit what I had in the fridge; the original was for a joint of beef and of course I had the breast of lamb. The other ingredients were truly rustic and simple: carrots, celery, onions, garlic, red wine and a pigs trotter. Yes, another pigs trotter. That's it on the right handside of the Mutton, there in the pan (left).
It is the preparation of all these elements – the browning of the meat, the reduction of the red wine, the slow cooking to amalgamate the flavours, the final tweaking of the resulting gravy for maximum flavour – that make this dish particularly flavourful.
As I mentioned, Mutton is a fatty meat so be prepared to skim quite a lot of oil from the finished dish but lurking beneath this oily veil is a deeply enriched sauce that needs only a splash of Balsamic Vinegar, maybe a pinch of salt and some sliced mushrooms to become absolute perfection.
Whilst you can replicate this dish using a joint of beef or lamb, if you come across any Mutton, do give this a try, it really is truly delicious.
DAUBE OF MUTTON, serves 2-3
Rolled Breast of Mutton or Lamb, about 2kg
1 Pigs Trotter (optional)
1 Large Carrot and an Onion, peeled and cut into chunks
5 or 6 Cloves of Garlic, unpeeled
2 Sticks Celery, cut into chunks
1 Bottle of Good, Full-Bodied Red Wine
1 Litre Chicken Stock
2 Bay Leaves
Some Peppercorns
Preheat oven to 150c.
1) If you are using the pigs trotter, simmer it in a pan of water for about 15 minutes.
2) In a frying pan not much bigger than the joint of meat, put a thin slick of oil and warm over medium heat. Brown the Joint on all sides until it is a rich mahogany brown but not burnt or scorched. This will help give the gravy its depth of flavour.
3) In another pan, boil up the wine until it has reduced to about a cups amount. This could take upto half an hour so you can do this in advance.
4) Once the meat is browned, place it in an ovenproof stockpot, put the drained pigs trotter next to it and surround with the chopped vegetables, cloves of garlic, peppercorns and bay leaves.
5) Pour over the wine reduction and top up to about 2 inches with the chicken stock.
6) Cover tightly and leave for 3 and a half to 4 hours in the oven, turning the meat joint halfway through the cooking time.
7) After this time, the meat will be unctiously tender. Remove from the pan, with the pigs foot and keep warm and to one side.
8) Scoop out the vegetables and keep to one side.
9) Skim off the oil by tilting the pan towards you slightly and using a large spoon.
10) Place the removed vegetables into a sieve and mush them up into the sauce, making sure to extract as much flavour as possible. The garlic in particular enhances the sauce perfectly and the puree of the vegetables helps to give the sauce a wonderful texture.
11) Taste the gravy and add a splash of Balsamic Vinegar if you feel it needs a bit more body. You can also add a pinch of salt if the wine reduction has made it particularly tart. Heat the sauce gently and if desired, add some sliced mushrooms and cook in the sauce for just a couple of minutes.
12) Cut the Mutton into thick slices and serve with some buttery mashed potato, spring greens and the rich sauce.
Oh and for those of you who insisted that I try it last time, Paul and I did eat part of the Pigs Foot. It had virtually fallen apart in the sauce, generously giving the sauce a velvety texture and thickness but what meat we could salvage reminded us of the Ham Hock that we cooked a few weeks ago, richly flavoured and very porky. A delightfully cheap meat treat (try saying that after some Tequila) treated luxuriously in the wine bath.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Mutton...this sounds like a perfect way to prepare it. I really must get the Zuni cookbook.

Ulrike said...

It must have been ages that I tried mutton. Thanks to the Turkish people living in our town, I can buy fresh lamb...

Betty C. said...

I love mutton, but my father - -who loves lamb -- can't stand it because he says it brings back memories of WWII years, when that was one of the only meats they could get. Fair enough...

veron said...

I don't remember eating mutton, but I love lamb! I love pork trotters too,love the collagen in them...
Your dish looks great...I think you've convinced me to give mutton a try!

sher said...

Good for you!!! It's rare to see mutton featured in a recipe. I can't find mutton at all--haven't for years! The University here has an excellent program on raising sheep and I'm met ranchers from Australia who come here to take classes and they often talk about mutton dishes. The picture looks wonderful.

Kelly-Jane said...

Your plate looks really good. I haven’t cooked mutton for a long time, can’t quite place the taste any more… I do think I’d like to try it again though, and hogget too. Also like the idea of the animal having had a longer life too.

I looked at the pictures first and I did wonder what the bit on the right was before reading your post!

Katie said...

I haven't had mutton in years!
I remember liking it - and I like the idea of a slow-braised dish with mutton. It always seems a waste to do it with lamb. Besides, mon mari would freak out if his lamb was anything but pink!
This looks lovely!

Kathryn said...

Well done! You ate trotter. I did say it was nice:).

That mutton dish looks really inviting. I love that sort of slow-cooked food. Yum.

Kathryn x

Joyce said...

Disaster on my PC, missed several postings. Can't say I missed the lamb but Sunday's Pizza and dessert look wonderful!

Melting Wok said...

freya & paul, the mutton really reminds me of chinese braised pork hocks, with that big bone in the center, simple slow cooking it will really brings out the tenderness ..ahh, I can imagine the sauce over some hot bowl of steamed rice :))