Remember mutton? Now in reality an almost forgotten flavour. So what exactly is the definition of mutton?
It is simply the meat of older sheep. Just as beef is mature veal so mutton is mature lamb, Spring lamb is the term used for the milk-fed lamb, born before Christmas and usually ready for the Easter market.
We use the term hogget for any sheep sold after Christmas whose flavour will, by then, be a little more robust. There is no legal definition but the full flavoured sheep, over two years old are referred to as mutton. I’m a big fan of mutton with its distinctive flavour but nowadays it’s almost impossible to source. Sadly few farmers are willing to keep their lambs for two years or more.
I love the slightly gamey, yet juicy and succulent meat. I had virtually forgotten about the complex deep flavour until a couple of years ago when a friend in Galway offered to rear me a couple of animals. He bought them down in the boot of his car and we had a feast of mutton with caper sauce.
In the UK there has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in mutton led by Prince Charles. Several top chefs like Fergus Henderson have highlighted it on their menu and extolled its attributes. Recently Bob Kennard, an organic farmer from Wales has written a book with the catchy name Much Ado About Mutton. Even for those not necessarily interested in the subject, this book is fascinating, it relates the history of mutton, a meat eaten for thousands of years by everyone from royalty to peasantry. Songs have been sung and poems, ditties and rhymes have been written about it.
The word has been absorbed into popular language and interpreted in a million ways — mutton chops, mutton sleeves, mutton head, mutton dressed as lamb, laced mutton (slang for a prostitute). Mutton was used for candles, soap and of course the wool was also of great value.
When New Zealand lamb arrived it brought the demise of mutton and meant a whole way of life and livelihood disappeared for drovers and inns in the early 20th Century.
I had no idea there were so many types of mutton, ewe mutton and wether mutton. Some of course more sought after than others. How wonderful would it be to be able to source Kerry, Galway or Wicklow mountain mutton where the sheep had nibbled on the rich mountain pasture for over two years. It’s up to us, make inquiries from your local butcher and guarantee to buy it when he commissions it from the farmer. Remember it costs the farmer quite a lot more to produce, so it’s essential to guarantee a fair price to the producer and honour your word. Meanwhile try these recipes with Irish mutton from your local family butcher.
Recently, after considerable research, I got some superb mutton close to home. Eddie O’Farrell a craft butcher in Midleton has built up a market for his carefully sourced mutton. I bought two legs, slow roasted one and boiled the other to take to Turin for the Slow Food Terra Madre event where the Ark of Taste created a protection around a variety of endangered and almost forgotten flavours from around the world. We also entered carrageen moss and dillisk into the Ark of Taste.
Bobotie (pronounced Bo-boor-tee)
One of the greatest contributions to South African food culture has been made by the Malay community. In the 17th century, these were slaves transported by the Dutch East India Company from the Dutch colonies in Indonesia, particularly Java. Later these were joined by dissidents to Dutch rule who were exiled to South Africa by the Dutch authorities in the Far East.
They brought with them their knowledge and a combination of sweet and sour as well as spicy sauces, curries, chutneys, and blatjangs (pronounced blud-youngs), which is a condiment traditionally served with bobotie and other meat dishes.
It is a cross between fruit chutney and jam. These spice combinations and flavours create very tasty yet mild dishes that have become part of South African cookery, and which work well with mutton.
The author Bob Kennard’s student daughter and her friends are particularly fond of this traditional recipe which has been a family favourite for many years.
500g minced mutton
1 slice white bread
1 medium onion
60gm seedless raisins
60gm blanched almonds
2 tsp apricot jam
2 tsp fruit chutney
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp turmeric
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp salt
2 tsp butter or oil
1 bay leaf
Soak the bread in half the milk, squeeze to remove the milk and mix the bread with the minced mutton.
Mix all the other ingredients, except the butter/oil, eggs, milk and bay leaf.
Melt the butter/oil in a frying pan and brown the meat mixture lightly. Turn out into a casserole.
Beat the eggs and the rest of the milk together and pour over the meat.
Garnish with the bay leaf. Bake in the oven at gas mark 4/350F/180C until set, about 50 minutes.
Tagine of Mutton and Chickpeas
This recipe was developed for the organic meat company which was founded, and owned until 2009, by the author Bob Kennard and his wife. It was a customer favourite. Like many mutton dishes this is especially suitable for cooking in a slow-cooker.
1kg diced mutton
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground paprika
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp plain flour
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
400g tin chickpeas, drained
Salt & black pepper
Mint or coriander to garnish
Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, paprika, ginger, cinnamon and chilli and cook, stirring, until spicily fragrant, about a minute.
Add the mutton, sprinkle the flour over it, stirring until thoroughly coated with the spiced mixture, then cook gently until lightly browned all over, 10-15 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and water, mix well and bring to a simmer.
Cover the casserole dish and transfer it to the oven. Bake for about 1¾ hours at gas mark 3/325F/170C.
Take out the dish and stir in the chick peas and raisins and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is tender.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot, garnished with herbs and with hot buttered couscous or mashed potato.
Clarissa Dickson Wright’s Mutton with Sumac and Butterbeans
Mutton and dry beans are a classic combination. This recipe was sent by the author celebrity chef (below) who was a staunch advocate of mutton. This selection of recipes reflects the modern take on cooking delicious mutton meals.
1.4-1.8kg loin mutton, boned and rolled
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
500g shallots, chopped
1 tbsp sumac or the peel of 1 lemon
2 wine glasses white wine
3 tbsp brandy
Pinch cayenne pepper
1½ tbsp runny honey
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
180g butter beans or haricot beans, soaked overnight
White wine vinegar (optional – to taste
Heat the oil in a heavy casserole and brown the shallots. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside. Rub the mutton with sumac or, alternatively, pierce the meat and put slivers of lemon peel in each of the slots. Put the mutton into the casserole and brown all over.
Add the wine, brandy, cayenne pepper, paprika, honey, garlic and 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Stir and simmer uncovered for 1½ hours.
Alternatively, place in the oven at gas mark 3/325F/170C. Add the beans, cover the casserole and cook for a further 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. If necessary, you can add a little water at this point and then taste. If light, add another tablespoon of runny honey and a little white wine vinegar.
All Grain Beer Making Made Simple: This course will teach you everything you need to know about making all-grain beers (as opposed to extract or kit beers). Over the course of the day, you will make a beer (for 30c a pint); including mashing, sparging, boiling, cooling, aerating, and pitching the yeast. You will be familiarised with the required equipment and methods to produce your own wholesome and inexpensive brews. Extensive notes provided. To book go to irishseedsavers.ie or contact them on 061-921866 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
East Cork Christmas Market: Local producers of food and crafts will be at Garryvoe Hotel, Ballycotton Bay, Cork, on Sunday December 7, 11.30am until 4.30pm. There will be delicious Christmas treats, unique handmade crafts. Order your Christmas poultry, baking and locally grown vegetables. Face painting and fun for children. Voluntary donation accepted. Proceeds to the local Vincent de Paul. For further information contact Olivia Connolly on 021-4646041 or email email@example.com
The Creatives present The Long Table Suppers: There are lots of pop-up long table suppers but be sure not to miss The Creatives, a series of delicious suppers created by Jette Virdi, a past student of the Ballymaloe Cookery School. The emphasis will be on giving back to the community, with profits going to a different project each time.
The first event will be held in the Fire Station Rathmines, Dublin. Price €60 for four courses, welcome drinks and live music. Tickets available from Mart, Rathmines or phone 083-1677977
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