Mutton (meat from sheep over two years old ) has had a hard press in this country since wartime. During rationing it was one of the only meats that could be reliably obtained and as such has remained in the national psyche as something to be endured rather than enjoyed, alongside other grim memories like powered egg and blackout blinds.Carol's mother shudders when she remembers the stew she ate as a child made from scrag end, lentils and whatever veg was available in the house. It was greasy,with bits of hard meat floating around in it, designed to fill you up on a budget, rather than provide you with a delicious meal.
When meat rationing ended in 1954 and more choice was available mutton was shunned for tastier options. People returned to meats that they had enjoyed eating pre-war and the sale of mutton declined. Coupled with the fact to be at it's best it is a meat that must be hung for two weeks and cooked long and slow, mutton was seen as a labour intensive meat not worth bothering about. When price of wool fell that also had a knock on effect on it's availability, it became more profitable for farmers to kill off their sheep young as lamb, rather than to hang on to them for wool production before slaughter. Mutton disappeared from our menus.
At Pig Row we hadn't ever considered trying mutton until we noticed recently that it was available from our local butchers and curiosity got the better of us. A little online research brought up the Mutton Renaissance campaign, led by the Prince of Wales to support British sheep farmers tying to sell off their older animals and to get this traditional meat back onto the nations plates. Mutton has changed; in the past it was a meat taken from a wether (as castrated male sheep) whereas modern mutton is now largely breeding ewe's that have reached the end of their productive life. The campaign has put quality standards in place for mutton. Renaissance Mutton must be over two years old, have a forage-based diet (grass, heather, root crops), it should have a certain amount of fat cover and be matured for two weeks. Producers must be able to provide full tractability records showing where the animal has been reared, it's breed and age at slaughter. With all that in mind but still with some mild trepidation we purchased a pound and decided to have a go.
We both love lamb curries so Carol decided to make a North Indian dish that would be served with fluffy rice on the first day and with potatoes the following day. Cooked long and slow in the bottom oven (a slow cooker or low heat would work equally as well) the end result was completely delicious. The meat was juicy and tender, firm but not tough, taking on the taste of the spices but retaining a lovely flavour of it's own. We have included the recipe below and invite you to try mutton too, not only does buying it support British farmers, forage fed mutton is a healthier alternative to lamb. The levels of Essential Fatty Acids in forage fed mutton are much closer to those that our forefathers would have eaten and bring with them multiple heath benefits. Much of our spring lamb is fed indoors on compound feeds containing saturates or imported from abroad.
North Indian Mutton Curry
This recipe is loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe, it is simple to follow and makes roughly four decent portions.
You will need
Oil (we use olive)
1 Large Onion
A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger root.
2 Garlic cloves
2 Green Chilies (we snipped these up still frozen from our freezer stash)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Paprika
2 tsp Ground Cumin
2 tsp Ground Coriander
1 tsp Chilli powder (less or more to taste depending on how hot you like it)
3 Whole Cloves
3 Cardamon Pods
1/2 Cinammon stick
1lb of Mutton chopped into 5cm chunks
1 Tin of tomatoes
1 pack of mushrooms quartered (optional)
4 Tablespoons of Greek Yoghurt mixed with 1 tablespoon of Plain Flour.
How to make it
Preheat your oven to 160C. Peel and finely chop the onion. Grate the ginger and garlic with a fine grated (or you can chop finely). Snip the chillies into tiny rings. Chop mushrooms into quarters. Measure all the spices into a bowl set aside. In an oven safe casserole dish or pan pour in a glug of oil an slowly fry the onions until they are golden brown, this takes about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chillies and cook for a couple of further minutes. Tip in the spices and after five minutes add the mutton, stir well to coat and cook until the meat colours. Add a tin of tomatoes, the mushrooms and a quarter can of water, stir, put on the lid and pop in the oven for approx two - three hours until meat is cooked and tender. Remove from the oven and return to the ring, if the dish seems watery you can simmer for a while on a medium heat (do not boil) for, ten minutes or so.
Reduce to a low heat add the yoghurt mixture and stir until thickened. Serve with rice or potatoes.
We ate this dish over two days, and it gets better at each serving.