Mutton dressed as... Sunday lunch

The most British of meats is back on our tables. Forget your prejudices: cooked long and slow, it's a deliciously tender treat, says Samuel Muston

What did you have for lunch on Sunday? Roasted topside of beef, perhaps? Or maybe a golden roast chicken, corn-fed, plump and bobbing in gravy? The better-heeled of us may even have indulged in some grouse, making the most of the season's final month. The more ascetic, perhaps turkey. One meat I'd bet you didn't sit down to enjoy, fork a-quivering and mouth open, was mutton.

That most British of foods, the toast of the poet, Jonathan Swift – who ate it with oysters – and breakfast of kings – who scoffed it with salt fish and beef – is firmly off the menu for most. 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?

Well, as of last week – and for the first time in decades – mutton is back in supermarkets. Waitrose now stocks Duchy Originals mutton chops, rib and shoulder joints in 10 of its supermarkets – after a concerted campaign by the Prince of Wales aimed at helping embattled sheep farmers and getting mutton a bigger slice of the 79.9kg of meat we each eat each year.

And it isn't just shops, either. Some of the capital's finest restaurants are dipping their toes and trying out mutton and wether (castrated male sheep) on their menus. Stevie Parle over at the Dock Kitchen on Ladbroke Grove has started using the omega-3-rich meat in his biryanis. Henry Harris at Racine in Knightsbridge, long a champion of the meat, has roast mutton on his menu. Likewise, Cyrus Todiwala at Café Spice Namaste, uses it in his famous Dhansak.

So how is it that the meat Mrs Beeton spoke of as "first in favour, [with] its fine flavour, digestible qualifications and general wholesomeness" and that is probably chiefly known to the rest of us as being "tough as old boots", is once again finding its way onto the nation's plates and palates?

According to Parle, who worked at the River Café and Moro before opening the Dock Kitchen in 2010, it is simply a matter of superior taste. "I decided to start using it when I found lamb wasn't standing up to the seasoning I was using in some dishes. I wanted something more robust, which is perhaps the best way to describe mutton – robust, deeply savoury and able to stand up for itself. The flavour comes with age. There is an enormous quantity of misconceptions about it. Some customers even ask staff in my restaurant if it's going to be tough."

Ah, yes, toughness. Any conversation about the meat inevitable turns to matter of chewiness. How is it that most of us have come to see mutton as a chewy, stringy and a frankly second-rate meat?

"You can blame the war," says John Thorley of Mutton Renaissance, a group dedicated to raising the meat's profile. "We needed to import meat after it ended and lots of mutton was brought frozen from Australia and New Zealand. The prolonged time in a freezer adversely affected the fat, giving an odd taste and stringy consistency. That's where it picked up its unjust reputation, which wasn't helped by the type of cooking it demands. Nice mutton needs long cooking, so it was seen as not fitting in with modern lifestyles."

Certainly cooking mutton is a different endeavour to cooking lamb. "Good mutton should be cooled immediately after slaughter, so the sinews don't harden, but even then it will have more defined muscle texture than lamb," says Sara Jayne-Stanes, director of the Academy of Culinary Arts, "so you have to treat it differently: slow cooking on a low heat gives tender, rich and gamey meat that melts in the mouth. Most of the cuts don't lend themselves to quick cooking. But that doesn't mean it need be thought inconvenient – you can simply pop a joint in the oven at low heat before you go out in the morning and come back in the evening to something quite spectacularly rich and tasty."

So next week, leave the pork in the fridge, don't defrost the chicken, let the grouse stay in its hedgerow and instead follow Jonathan Swift's injunction for the perfect Sunday...

"Lay the mutton down to roast/ Dress it quickly, I desire/ In dripping put a toast/ That I hunger may remove/ Mutton is the meat I love."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage