Monday, 23 May 2011

Mutton dressed as mutton - because why would you dress it as anything else?

Mutton has had a couple of mentions on this blog before, but only in reviews of meals eaten out, and although I’ve long meant to do some at home I’d never quite got round to it, until last weekend.  Which is something of a fashion faux pas on my behalf, because mutton is currently so achingly hip that you are much more likely, these days, to come across lamb dressed as mutton than the other way around.  Except perhaps in your neighbourhood curry house, although even there, if it’s half way decent, I’d assume that when they say lamb they mean lamb, and when they mean mutton they say ‘meat’.  And generally of course mutton would be not only more ‘authentic’ (don’t worry, I’m not going off on that topic today…) but entirely more appropriate than lamb for most ‘Indian’* cooking, far better suited to the heavy spicing and long slow cooking that would normally entail.

Anyway, we were 6 for dinner, on a Sunday, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to roast a leg of mutton and get on board with the ‘mutton renaissance’ (and just because Prince Charles supports a thing it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad idea – although I can’t help but fear it must cast some doubt on my own earlier claim of trendiness.  There again, taking into account the sheer quantity of tweed being worn by Dalston hipsters these days, maybe I’m the one out of step here, and Charlie boy’s bang on trend).

1 leg of mutton (2.5kg)

2 big fat salted anchovies (and their salt)
2 big fat garlic cloves
1 inch of fresh red chilli
A dessert spoon of capers
Plenty of black pepper
Plenty of olive oil
1 stalk of rosemary, a handful of thyme leaves

On Saturday evening, I pounded the ingredients for the marinade – apart from the herbs - into a paste with pestle and mortar and rubbed that paste into the lightly scored surface of the joint, along with the rosemary and thyme leaves. Then I put the leg back into the bag it came home from the butchers in and returned it to the fridge overnight.

On Sunday afternoon I took the leg out of the fridge in plenty of time to get up to room temperature before starting to cook it. Then I preheated the oven to about 250 - with the roasting tray inside to get hot enough that when the leg was placed in it you heard it sizzling furiously - and then I turned it down to 230 when the meat went in, left it for 30 minutes, then turned it down again, to 150 for another hour.  Then I took the joint out and let it rest for a good 30-40 minutes before carving, more into thick chunks than slices.

I made a simple gravy by just deglazing the roasting tray with sherry (about 150ml), and a punchy mint sauce by roughly chopping a good bunch of mint leaves then pounding them together (pestle and mortar again) with a couple of garlic cloves, a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, flaky sea salt, pepper, a good slug of extra virgin olive oil until I had a good thick paste, then thinned that out with sherry vinegar – about an espresso cup’s worth (which is what I served it in).

Served up with the gravy, the sauce, some home made medlar jelly and sides of roasted Jersey Royals and asparagus, and wilted spring greens, this was arguably the best Sunday roast I’ve ever done (I couldn’t possibly be conceited enough to suggest ever had – could I?).  Much richer and more densely flavoured than lamb, and certainly no less tender, despite commonly held pre/misconceptions.  And fond as I am of roast beef - and I am very fond of roast beef - I would suggest that mutton is more interestingly flavoured, with just a hint of gaminess.

Also, like beef, but unlike lamb, it was just as good cold, and made wonderful sandwiches over the following couple of days, with a layer of that medlar jelly, a good smear of mustard, some finely sliced rings of red onion, and cucumber (pickled for me, fresh for Becca).

And that’s not to mention the shepherds pie, made with diced meat and some of the delicious stock made from the bone.  Or the spicy mutton, chorizo and butter bean stew that Becca had waiting for me one evening on my return from work.

It was also, it has to be said, something of a bargain - markedly cheaper than lamb or beef would have been - with the whole 2.5 kg coming in at under twenty quid from those fine chaps at Theobalds.  And from that we not only had our dinner party for six, but as you see from the above, pretty much fed ourselves for the rest of the week.

* Here I am using ‘Indian’ as a catch all term for what might perhaps most accurately be described as British curry house cuisine – except that sounds inescapably derisive.  I am fully aware of the fact that as many if not more of those curry houses might be Bangladeshi or Pakistani, and that there are many great and distinct cuisines of the South Asian sub continent – Bengali, Punjabi, Keralan etc – and that more and more restaurants these days are devoting themselves to, and advertising themselves as, serving up purer, more authentic expressions of those cuisines, and a very good thing too.  I can, though, easily imagine a future in which ‘authenticity’ is claimed for indigenous British Asian cooking, and restaurants serving lipstick crimson tandoori chicken, and hi-viz orange tikka masala become ragingly fashionable.

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