When was the last time you ate mutton? Saw mutton even? Mutton has become the ‘chicken and egg’ meat. It’s not in the butchers, so you can’t ask for it – and if you don’t ask for it, your butcher isn’t going to stock it.
Yet mutton is our traditional meat, eaten regularly ever since the Cistercian monks went into the wool business back in the twelfth century. Unfortunately, when the bottom fell out of the wool market some 900 years later, mutton fell out of fashion and we adopted lamb as our sheep on the plate.
Mutton, rather than being the scrawny poor relation, is one of our finest meat products. It’s just the meat we forgot to eat.
Technically, any sheep meat from an animal over a year old is classed as mutton, but two to three years is best as the meat develops a deeper flavour and texture.
It is a tougher meat, so long slow cooking is the key to making the most of its unique flavours. If roasting a leg or a shoulder, for example, you should give it at least a good six to eight hours at around 120C.
This recipe uses two cooking techniques, making the mutton both tender, but also nicely caramelised. If you cannot get mutton, the recipe will work with lamb shoulder chops instead.
This mutton came from a farm near Stamford and was butchered in Boston. It’s Lincolnshire through and through – and it’s the best I’ve ever had.
2 mutton chops per person, 150g natural yogurt, 6 cloves garlic, 4 sprigs of rosemary, 500ml lamb stock, 1 tablespoon capers, 1 handful of fresh mint, White wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon caster sugar
Marinade the chops in the yogurt, chopped garlic and rosemary for at least 8 hours – overnight is best. Once marinated, place the chops in the bottom of a pan with all the mixture and cover with the stock. Gently poach until tender, which should be after about an hour. Remove the chops and set aside to rest.
Reduce the remaining liquor by half, season and strain for a rich gravy. Chop the capers and mint, and mix with a few tablespoons of the vinegar and the sugar.
To finish the chops, give them a minute on the hottest griddle or frying pan you can manage. This will caramelise the meat and crisp the fat.
Serve with seasonal vegetables, especially some wintery greens.
Text by James Waller-Davies