Mutton with prunes

My adventures cooking mutton continued this week as I made a lovely dish the Italians call spezzatino con prugne. Or at least that is what it’s called in The Silver Spoon where I discovered the recipe.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve been experimenting with mutton over the last few weeks and I’ve discovered it really is a splendid meat. I am now a firm champion of the Mutton Renaissance campaign. So far I’ve cooked Irish stew and mutton curry, both of which were quite delicious.

When I came across the mutton with prunes recipe it appealed to me straightaway. Mutton has a deep rich flavour that I felt would work with something sticky and fruity like prunes.

However while I was cooking it, I have to admit I did have second thoughts. The brown mess in the pan wasn’t looking as attractive as the photo in the book. But my doubts were unjustified. It might not be the prettiest dish in the world, but it sure is good to eat.

It’s another very simple recipe, calling for only a few ingredients. There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about it.

And as with all these mutton recipes, the meat could be replaced with lamb.

Mutton with Prunes

Serves 4

200g prunes, stoned
300ml dry white wine
600g diced mutton (remove as much fat as you can)
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
50g butter
2 tbsp passata, maybe a little more
salt and pepper

Place the prunes in a bowl, cover with the wine and set to one side.

Put the mutton in a pan, add cold water to cover and bring to simmering point. Add the onion and garlic, cover and simmer over a medium heat (or in a warm oven) for about one hour. Season and then drain well, reserving the cooking liquid.

Melt the butter in another pan, add the passata and mutton, and cook over a high heat for a couple of minutes. Lower the heat, drain the prunes and add them to the pan.

Simmer for around 20 minutes, adding more cooking liquid if the meat starts drying out. I ended up adding most of the liquid, plus a little more passata.

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and a green salad.

Irish stew

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Irish stew.
Irish stew who?
Irish stew in the name of the law!

Apologies. I had an overwhelming desire to share one of my favourite childhood jokes from the classic Ha Ha Bonk Book. Whenever Irish stew is mentioned, I hear the joke in my head. Right, so now I’ve got that out of my system, on with the food…

I was recently inspired to experiment with mutton after reading a couple of newspaper articles. So after stocking up the freezer with various cuts, my first foray into cooking this delicious but much-maligned meat saw me creating a wonderfully aromatic mutton curry.

Next I wanted to try something a little more traditional. And what could be a more traditional use for mutton than Ireland’s national dish, Irish Stew?

I found the recipe below in the rather wonderful The Silver Spoon cookbook. I know, I know. Slightly strange to turn to the Italians for an Irish dish, but I love the fact you can look up any ingredient in The Silver Spoon and you’ll find what to do with it.

What immediately struck me was just how simple this recipe is. Apparently purists use only mutton, potatoes, onions and water, and perhaps a few herbs. It was hard to resist the temptation to add just a little something, even if it were just a couple of carrots. But resist I did, and good job too as it really doesn’t need anything else.

Despite the mutton having quite a strong flavour (it’s almost gamey), the whole family really liked this dish and so I will be cooking it again.

If you can’t get hold of mutton, try using lamb instead.

Irish Stew

Serves 4

800g mutton, cut into cubes
800g potatoes, thinly sliced
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

In a large casserole arrange alternate layers of mutton, potatoes and onions, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper and herbs as you go. Add the bay leaf and pour in just enough water to cover.

Bring to the boil over a high heat. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 1¼ hours until tender. (Or, like me, leave in the bottom oven of the Aga for an afternoon.)

And that’s it. Couldn’t be easier. Enjoy with a big hunk of buttered bread.

Mutton dressed as… mutton

‘You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,’ said the Red Queen. ‘Alice – Mutton; Mutton – Alice.’ The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and she returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll (1872)

I recently read a piece in the Independent by Samuel Muston which suggested that mutton was making a bit of a comeback. This got me thinking: I’ve never actually eaten mutton, let alone cooked it.

Mutton has always sounded terribly old-fashioned to me. The kind of thing they ate in Victorian times or during the war because they couldn’t get hold ‘anything better’. As Muston says:

Even the word “mutton” sounds archaic and glottal; something from an age of crinolines and penny farthings. We are sophisticates, after all; we eat nice, soft, milky lamb. Two-year-old sheep went out with the ark, right?

Mutton is said to have a more complexity of flavour than lamb, a more gamey quality. You can compare the difference in flavour between mutton and lamb to that of chicken and guinea fowl. But you’d be mistaken in thinking mutton is cheaper than lamb just because its older. Quite often you pay a premium as it’s harder to get hold of.

More and more restaurants are now featuring mutton dishes on their menus. So if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I decided there and then I was going to get hold of some of this “most British of foods”.

While some Waitrose stores now apparently stock mutton, I couldn’t find any in my local supermarket. So I turned instead to my local butcher Jon Thorners who ordered some in for me: half a leg and some casserole meat.

So now I had my mutton, what to do with it? All the advice I came across says that long, slow cooking is best, a major contributor to why it’s decreased in popularity. These days, in our busy modern lives we just don’t have the time to cook it. The good people at Mutton Renaissance explain:

However, whilst many British consumers turned their back on mutton, it has remained highly valued in Asian, North African and Caribbean cuisine where long, slow marinades are combined with moist methods of cookery.

A mutton curry therefore seemed to me the most obvious thing to start with. Our friend Mikey, who’s living the good life in Cephalonia making wine, had recently been raving about a recipe for goat curry. It sounded perfect.

The verdict? Well, I can’t recommend this recipe highly enough. The meat was beautifully tender and the flavours both spicy and delicate. The meat needs to marinade overnight and it must cook for a few hours, so not a dish to rustle up quickly. But as they say, good things come to those who wait.

I’ll definitely make this again. But not until I’ve experimented with some more mutton recipes first. I’ll report back on those later. In the meantime, here’s the mutton curry recipe…

The aromatic spices give this curry an amazing depth of flavour

Mutton curry

Serves 4

For the marinade:

500g diced mutton
2 tsp chopped garlic
3 tsp chopped ginger
2 fresh green chillies, chopped
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt

In a bowl, add all the marinade ingredients to the diced mutton and mix well. Cover and keep in a cool place over night.

For the curry:

2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
1 chopped onion
Marinated mutton
300ml chicken stock
1 can chopped tomatoes (crushed)
1 tbsp tomato puree
300g potatoes (peeled and chopped into large dice)
1 bunch fresh coriander (roughly chopped)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan, and then add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods. Cook the spices for a minute or so before adding the onion.

Cook the onions with the spices for 10 minutes then add the mutton. Stir and cook for 10 minutes, then add the stock, tomatoes and tomato puree. Cover and simmer over a low heat for about two hours. This is a perfect Aga dish. I cooked it in the bottom of our Aga for four hours.

When the meat is tender, add the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes or so.

Remove from the heat, check the seasoning and stir in the coriander just before dishing up. Serve with rice or naan bread. Or both. I’m salivating just thinking about it.