Mutton is cool again. But how on earth do you stop it tasting like old boots? Find out how ...

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Roast leg o'mutton this Sunday?

Mutton. It's not new. In fact, it's a bit old. So how can this be the new food trend?

 

Well, sales of mutton are on the rise and this long-forgotten meat is even starting to appear on chefs' menus (and not just mutton dressed as lamb). We spoke to head chef James Ferguson of the Beagle Restaurant in London to find out what all the fuss is about.

 

Why eat mutton if you can have lamb?

Because it's delicious! For anything that's slow cooked, like a stew, pie or curry, I would always use mutton instead of lamb. The taste is better, the meat holds together, and the fat from mutton is amazing. Try my tasty mutton pie if you don't believe me!

Lamb is generally up to a year and a half old, and after that it becomes hoggart. After two years or more it's mutton.

 

But isn't it tough and overpowering?

Mutton doesn't have a scary flavour. It’s not like hare that can be really strong if it’s been hung for a long time. And as for tough, like anything, that depends how you cook it.

 

So what's the best way? 

Low and slow. Shoulder, breast, neck and leg shanks are all good for braising – as a rule, any part of an animal that works a lot is good braised.

 

To braise a shoulder of mutton, heat some oil in a large casserole dish and brown the joint all over. Add hot stock to the same pan so the meat is partly submerged – a bit like a hippo coming out of a pool. Cover with foil and simmer on a very low heat for about 7 hours or overnight.

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What does it go with?

Turnips work really well with mutton, or preserved autumn fruits, such as damsons, gooseberries and elderberries, with their tangy sugary acidity. Anchovies are great, and obviously mint and rosemary.

 

Drink something hearty with mutton like a Bordeaux or brown ale. A bit of greenery’s good to sop up the juices, or a mustardy salad made with watercress.

 

Fess up then. How old is it?

Lamb is generally up to a year / year and a half, then after that it becomes hoggart. After two years or more it's mutton and it can go right the way up. The mutton in that pie is four and a half to five years old.

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James' mutton pie: with that legendary suet pastry and meaty filling, it's safe to say this is not a light lunch

 

And you can buy it from...

Any good butcher or food market: try Brixton market in south London, as it's really popular down there.

 

So why did we get all sheepish about eating mutton in the UK?

Mutton used to be a staple of the working class household, as it was quite a bit cheaper than lamb. People like my gran, who came from a family of 11, would get big cuts of mutton and cut it down to feed the family. After WWII lamb became more popular because it's quicker and easier to produce ... you've got to wait a long time for a good bit of mutton! But now mutton is still probably about £2 less per kilo on average than lamb.

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Which tastes better: mutton or lamb?

Everyone's like 'yeah let's get the lamb at springtime' but spring lamb actually hasn't got that much flavour. Mutton is perfect in the early spring as it's had more time to develop it's fat after the winter... and more fat means more flavour. It's also had a good life before the chop! 

 

Not bad. And it's not just for stewing you know.

  • Roast the whole leg studded with garlic either slowly on the bone or until pink with the bone out
  • Marinate chops or neck in yogurt or buttermilk for a couple of days, then grill until pink
  • Mutton's also the best thing for tagine. They don’t eat much lamb in Morocco and North Africa anyway so it's way more authentic
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Swap lamb for mutton in this flavour-packed tagine and cook on low 'til tender

Make your own version of James stonking pie with his recipe or pre-order it and meet the man yourself at The Beagle. Tantalise your tastebuds with his menu here...