Cooking with mutton
Lamb is all well and good – but for a fuller flavour, make the most of mutton.
By Stevie Parle
3:28PM GMT 05 Mar 2012
Mutton is on menus everywhere at the moment, including my own.
This is one food trend I thoroughly approve of.
The flavour of meat from older animals (mutton is taken from a sheep that is more than two years old) can be
better than either lamb (less than a year old) or hogget (between one and two).
I often wonder what the big deal is with milk-fed lamb. I generally prefer the developed flavour of an older beast,
which has had time for a layer of toothsome fat to develop.
With the Schmallenberg virus affecting newborn lambs across England (Robin Page discusses this on page 11),
mutton suddenly looks like a better choice for the cautious.
Yet it can be hard to source, according to my supplier, the butcher and farmer Tom Jones.
He says sheep farming is still feeling the effects of foot-and-mouth from a decade ago, not to mention cheap
imports from New Zealand.
Recently the price of sheep has picked up and farmers who diversified into arable or other livestock are building
their stocks up again, keeping older animals back to breed from.
So mutton is a little rare.
When you can get it, however, it’s wonderful stuff.
I used to make this biryani recipe using lamb. It was excellent, but the flavour of the meat didn’t stand up to the
Mutton is a different story, since it has real flavour: not massively strong, but quietly confident.
It holds its own against some pretty powerful tastes.
When I was a child, my dad would often make Irish stew with mutton chops. He’d carefully brown the chops then
add carrots, potatoes, water, herbs and salt, and cook slowly for a few hours. It was the mutton that made it,
giving a wonderful, flavoursome broth.
Mutton can be cooked quickly, but it needs a fairly strongly acidic marinade, which helps to tenderise the meat.
The key is to leave it for a few hours at least.
And if you fry or grill mutton, cooking the fat properly is important.
Properly sizzled and rendered down it can be the best part of the chop; half-cooked or cold it’s awful