Back in December, we conducted our first slaughter from our flock, selecting some of our more senior ewes and a handful of lambs to be dispatched at the local meatworks. We’ve discovered a great deal of buried enthusiasm for the merits of good mutton. From the likes of Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall and Prince Charles with their Mutton Renaissance campaign, to various friends who fondly recalled being raised on the more mature meat.
At its best, mutton is renowned for being a fine grained meat, with a complexity of flavour reflective of its diversity of forage. With Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describing mutton as the beef of the sheep world, fellow foodie Sophie Grigson has gushed over mutton as “beautifully tender, firm-grained, and with a rich but not aggressive flavour,” offering, in comparison to lamb, “more depth of flavour, a more complex rounded taste, more ‘umami’, if you like.”
With lamb now the standard for sheep meat in Australia, we’ve been experimenting with ways to make the most of mutton, including some of the more tricky cuts. While we did acquire a second-hand slow cooker to reduce even the most uncompromising cuts into rich and tender morsels, we’re working on expanding our repertoire beyond stews. A couple of handy recipe books to reserve at the library or your local bookshop: The Complete Slow Cooker by Sally Wise (2013, HarperCollins Publishers) offers a wealth of slow-cooking advice and recipes, and The Jewelled Kitchen, by Bethany Kehdy (2013, Duncan Baird Publishers) is just one of many Middle Eastern and North African cookbooks that offers a wealth of preparations from cultures accustomed to sheep and goats.
Here’s a few muttony options of ours to get started:
Lebanese(?)-inspired herby mutton torpedoes
1 kg minced mutton
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch of coriander, finely chopped
1 bunch of mint, finely chopped (optional)
1-2 tablespoons ground cumin
1-2 tablespoons ground coriander
1-2 teaspoons paprika
olive oil, for frying
Add all ingredients to a large bowl and thoroughly combine with your hands. Form into long thick torpedoes, and fry enthusiastically. Serve on flat breads, with cucumber, lettuce and tomato, topped with yoghurt or a relish to your taste.
Tuscan(?)-inspired mutton stew
1kg mutton stewing bits (what we affectionately call ‘curry legs’, or your butcher might call ‘shanks’, as well as any other awkwardly-shaped or boney selections)
2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 cup red wine
4 carrots, sliced
1 cup water
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
handful of green olives
1-2 zucchinis, sliced
400g tin of tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons paprika
salt, to taste
Trim as much fat as possible of the mutton, then combine all ingredients in a slow cooker, giving it a stir to ensure that the ingredients are comfortably mingling and the mutton is as submerged as possible. Cook on high for a couple of hours, then turn down to low for another 4-6, resisting the urge to remove the lid and stir. Fish out the bones and rosemary sprigs, season to taste and serve. Perhaps the addition of a bed of cheesy polenta would make at least some of your dreams come true.
1kg mutton stewing bits (see description above)
2 onions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped, don’t really care
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 or more teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
2-4 cups of stock (perhaps you’ve already made some from a previous mutton dish)
400g tin of tomatoes
1/2 cup of olives
1/2 cup of dates
Follow the instructions for the “Tuscan” mutton stew above, substituting the cheesy polenta finale for something more along the lines of couscous or millet.
Facing our fear of the flaps
When acquiring a whole sheep via the butcher, we’ve inevitably ended up with a number of tricky cuts, including what is variously called the “breast”, the “party rack” or simply, the “flaps”. While these have struck terror in our hearts in the past, one friend has shared a number of hot tips, via her “un-flappable” (get it?) parents.
- They agreed that any slow cooking method would work, including any recipe for oxtail or shanks or osso bucco that would create enough liquid to submerge the cuts. Cooking a day ahead would allow any fat that renders to rise to the surface, harden and be removed. Peeling off some of the outer layer of fat prior to cooking should be possible.
- You could also treat them as spare ribs, or BBQ them as a slab for about 5 minutes on each side, using any recipe for ribs.
- Alternatively, you could strip off the thin layer of meat, stuff it and tie it together or run a skewer through it to close it up and roast it. (There are a number of recipes online that offer versions of this, if you search for “lamb breast roast” or similar).
- For authentic, depression-era cuisine, a final idea is to “score the fatty side in both directions (cut cross hatching into it with a sharp knife). Rub salt into it. Roast slowly for 1 1/2-2 hours at 140C (Mama still had a wood burning oven when I was child). I am guessing this must have been done on a rack over a pan, or in a pan, because Mama would save the rendered fat to make scones later. The result was just delicious, every bit as good as crackling, according to Mum.”
We’d love to hear any other mutton recipes or recommendations. A special thanks to Mary and her parents for sharing their excellent ideas.