Much ado about mutton: Mark Hix presents a tastier alternative to lamb

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It lends itself to slow cooking and is tastier than lamb. No, really. Let our man in the kitchen help you fall in love with mutton.

So we still aren't quite convinced about mutton, are we? We are happy to buy good-quality lamb or one-year-plus hogget and slow-cook it when we should be roasting it, but we don't seem to want to use the older mutton which lends itself to slow cooking and has a far superior flavour to lamb.

OK, fair enough, you can't walk into your local supermarket and pick up a shoulder of mutton, but a good local butcher should be able to facilitate your order.

All you foodies out there should be using mutton if you are doing a slow cook, like a hot pot or braise or curry.

Goat curry

Serves 4-6

I was recently reminded that, like sheep, older goats are referred to as mutton. Which could confuse people who think they are getting sheep when they are actually getting goat! But, actually, goat is quite delicious and as good as any lamb or veal – the only problem is getting decent goat meat. Many butchers do actually sell goat, but you may well need to pre-order it.

It's worth making a batch of the roasted curry spices and keeping them in a kilner jar. This quantity makes more than you need but you can keep the remainder for a rainy day.

For the roasted curry spices

1tbsp fenugreek seeds
1tbsp fennel seeds
1tbsp fenugreek leaves
1tbsp cumin seeds
1tbsp dried chilli powder
½tbsp caraway seeds
½tbsp nigella seeds
1tbsp turmeric
8 cloves
1tbsp mustard seeds
½tbsp podded cardamon seeds (the black seeds inside the green pods)
1tbsp ground cumin
1tbsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cinnamon

Grind all the whole spices in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar. Then mix them with the already ground spices and sprinkle into a heavy-bottomed frying pan.

Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly and not letting them burn, until they turn dark brown. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool, then store in a sealed jar.

For the curry

800g-1kg goat meat, cut into rough 3-4cm chunks
2-3tbsp natural yogurt
2 medium red onions, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A small piece of root ginger, scraped and finely grated
A good pinch of saffron
A good pinch of curry leaves
75g ghee (or a half oil/half butter mix)
2tbsp roasted curry powder (see above)
1tbsp tomato purée
500ml lamb or beef stock, made from a good stock cube is fine
A few sprigs of coriander,roughly chopped

Marinate the goat in the yogurt for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, gently cook the onion, garlic, ginger, saffron and curry leaves in two thirds of the ghee for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add the curry spices and tomato purée and stir well. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Blend the sauce in a liquidiser, until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan, pushing as much through the sieve as possible.

Return to a low heat and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Heat the remaining ghee in a frying pan, remove the excess yogurt from the goat and season and fry until lightly coloured. Pour the sauce in and simmer gently for about 1-2 hours or until tender, topping up with water or more stock as it's cooking. Add the coriander and simmer for another couple of minutes.

Serve with basmati rice and scatter with the sprigs of coriander.

Shoulder of mutton with celery sauce

Serves 4

Ask your butcher to cut a thick steak through the bone for this, or you could use a leg cut if you wish or even some of the bone cuts through the neck.

4 shoulder of mutton steaks, cut through the bone and weighing about 350-400g
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
50g flour plus some extra for dusting
60g butter
2 large onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 litres of hot chicken stock
8 sticks of celery, cut into rough ½cm dice
3tbsp chopped parsley mixed with some chopped celery leaves

Season the mutton steaks and lightly flour them. Heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the steaks for a minute on each side without colouring. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy-based, large saucepan (large enough to fit the mutton steaks) and gently cook the onions for 2-3 minutes without colouring. Stir in the flour then gradually whisk in the hot chicken stock. Add the mutton steaks, season, cover with a lid and simmer very gently for about 2- 2½ hours until they are tender, or even better, use a pressure cooker and they will cook in half the time.

The sauce should be a thick, coating consistency; if not, remove the mutton and continue simmering the sauce until it thickens. Add the celery and continue simmering for about 10 minutes, then stir in the parsley and re-season if necessary.

To finish, return the mutton to the sauce to reheat for a few minutes and serve immediately.

Meatball tagine with olives and pickled lemon

Serves 4

Minced mutton makes a great tagine like this, you can keep it just as it is or add some chunks of pumpkin or a few grilled merguez sausages at the end.

For the meatballs

800g minced mutton
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
½tsp ground cumin
½tsp sweet Spanish pimenton or paprika
1tsp freshly-grated root ginger
¼tsp ground cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

2 onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
½tsp Spanish pimenton or paprika
½tsp ground cumin
½tsp ground cinnamon
A good pinch of saffron
4tbsp olive oil
300ml beef or chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pickled lemon
20 or so good-quality green olives

First make the sauce. In a good-size saucepan or cast-iron casserole, gently cook the onion, garlic, pimenton, cumin, cinnamon and saffron in the oil for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper andf simmer for 20 minutes. add the pickled lemon and olives; simmer for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well. Mould into balls about the size of a 10p piece and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until almost smoking and fry the meatballs, a few at a time, until nicely coloured; then drain in a colander or on some kitchen paper. At this stage you can transfer the sauce to a tagine. Add the meatballs and simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve in a tagine with the lid on or in a heatproof serving dish. Steamed couscous makes a nice accompaniment.

Spiced yellow split pea and mutton broth

Serves 4

300g yellow split peas or dahl, soaked overnight
A mutton shank or a piece of shoulder weighing about 700-800g
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
30g root ginger, scraped and finely chopped
1 small mild chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp cumin seeds
3 litres of chicken stock (a couple of good cubes will do)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2-3tbsp of chopped fresh coriander

Put the mutton shanks, onion and the spices in a saucepan with the ginger, chilli, garlic, bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 2-2½ hours, topping up with water if necessary, or until the mutton is tender. If you have a pressure cooker it will take half the time.

Remove the mutton and put to one side. Put the yellow split peas and celery in the cooking liquor and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the peas are tender. Blend about one-sixth of the soup in a liquidiser and pour back into the pan. Remove the mutton from the bone and flake or cut into small pieces and add to the soup.

Check the seasoning and adjust the consistency of the soup with more stock or water if it's too thick; soups made with pulses are a little unpredictable and can end up thicker than you expect. Add the chopped coriander and bring back to the boil. Serve.

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