Mutton is the name given to meat from grown up sheep, tasting similar to lamb, but with a slightly more prounced flavour and firmer texture, so ideal for stews and casseroles. A sheep’s meat is called lamb up until it’s one year old, then hogget, between 13 months and two years. Mutton is the meat from sheep (castrated males and females) that have grown two permanent icisor teeth – these are generally 3+ years old.
Mutton used to be very popular in the UK and prized for it’s flavour, but in the last 50 years or so it has lost out to lamb, which can be roasted quickly and eaten rare. You may think you’ve never eaten mutton, but it’s very popular on the Indian subcontinent, so if you’ve eaten lamb curry in a restaurant, it will almost certainly have been mutton and I bet it tasted good!
I was walking down the street this week, looking in shop windows and came across mutton shoulder at 5.99 per kg! For a second, I thought, “That’s good, but I’ve already got supper arranged for tonight.” A moment later I thought, “Carpe diem!” …and I was straight in there discussing cricket! If you look to the right of the above picture, you’ll see that the mutton leg cost 6.99 per kg which is amazing value for a slow cooked joint of meat, at a time when a leg of lamb (in the supermarket) costs more than double!
So, driven by the spirit of the Romans, I bought a kilo of mutton shoulder and the butcher obligingly chopped it into bite sized pieces on the bone. Initially I was inclined to cook a chilindrón, but I strayed from my own recipe, relative to having green chilli peppers in the fridge that needed to be used up.
Mutton Casserole recipe (serves 4):
1kg mutton on the bone (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
1 green pepper (chopped)
2 sticks celery (chopped)
2 small green chilli peppers (chopped, seeds removed)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon thyme
a pinch chipotle chilli (or to taste)
2 bay leaves
a large squirt or two anchovy paste (or to taste)
1 pint lamb stock
a glass dry white wine
a splash red wine vinegar
a splash sherry vinegar (or to taste)
a handful fresh coriander (chopped)
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
a little chopped coriander (or parsley) to garnish
Season (with salt and pepper) then brown the meat in hot olive oil – do this in two or three batches or the meat will poach and go sticky.
Remove the mutton to a plate, turn the heat down and cook the onion gently until it goes soft and transluscent.
Mix in the celery, sweet peppers and green chilli peppers.
Warm the cumin and coriander seeds until you can smell their aroma, then grind them with coarse sea salt and a few black pepper corns using a mortar and pestle.
Add the ground herbs with a lttle thyme and chipotle chilli .
Return the meat to the casserole.
Pour on the wine and stock, add the bay leaves, red wine vinegar and anchovy paste, then stir well.
Chop a handful of fresh coriander and mix in. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook in a pre heated oven at 150º C for 3 hours or until tender. Check the seasoning and add a little sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar). This sweetens and cuts the fattiness of the mutton. It’s a bit like the way in which mint sauce (containing vinegar) regulates the fatty taste with roast lamb and gravy. If you wish, you can allow the stew to cool, at which point the fat will float on the top and can be scooped off with a spoon, though IMHO it’s not necessary.
When ready, sprinkle on a little more chopped coriander to garnish, then serve with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Oveja Tinta Graciano, from Bodegas Fontana in Uclés (Castilla-La Mancha) with the mutton casserole.