Old sheep are the best sheep

pie!
pie!

The Kitchen Cabinet is back! YAY. One of the things I most love about doing the show (and there are lots and lots of things to choose from) is the opportunity it gives me to cook things I probably wouldn’t get round to otherwise. (It’s sort of provocation and ‘I dare you’ more than opportunity, actually). For those unfamiliar with the programme (HOW? WHAT? WHY?), the format is a sort of Gardener’s Question Time on LSD, with a series of enthusiastic and up-for-it audiences asking questions to a panel of culinary experts which differs each week. In every episode we cover different topics, linked to the place where we are recording, what’s in season at the time the programme will air, and burning food questions of the day. The questions we answer are submitted by audience members on the night, so we have no idea what we will be responding to until about 2 minutes before we step on stage, but we do get a heads-up on the main subject areas. For me, that means a day or so of intensive research, to find interesting facts, recipes and to create a historical narrative which will act as context to the more immediate questions around how to cook it, build it, eat it or think about it. We also have invited guests from the area in which we record, who usually bring things we can eat (it goes without saying that we are all enthusiastic eaters).

The latest run started last Saturday (the 24th September), with a show from Derry (you can catch up via iPlayer Radio, by downloading the podcast, or by going to the show’s very own website, here). This Saturday we are coming at you from Windsor, and we are talking about Queen Victoria (clearly a fabulous topic upon which it is possibly to wax lyrical for about 5 days), Ragus sugar syrups and mutton. You’ll have to listen to the show to hear its glories, but I promised several audience members that I would post the two recipes I cooked, hence this post.

For those of you who are raising an eyebrow at the thought of mutton, DO NOT DARE. Mutton, in my view, is far superior to its fatty, flaccid offspring, lamb, and has both a better taste and texture. I am not alone in thinking this, and there is a website, fronted by Prince Charles, devoted to its charms. The 19th century definition was that it was meat from a sheep of over 3 years, and the meat of those of 6 years plus was deemed the best. Generally now, sheep meat is lamb until it about a year and a half old, and hogget until it is three ish, and mutton after that. Some butchers only admit to having hogget if you ask them, as they label it as lamb, for lamb sells better. Very few sell mutton and you generally have to order it, or buy it online. It seems silly to me that, since the 1960s, we’ve largely lost the habit of eating baby cow (though veal remains easier to obtain than mutton), but embraced the habit of eating baby sheep (yes, yes, not actual babies: both veal and lamb is usually a year old unless stated otherwise). Lamb is baby food, really, as sweet and tender and juicy as is veal, although it is not quite as different to mutton as veal is to beef. Lamb is delightful to cook with if you need a hefty amount of fat, and don’t mind a bit of insipidity. Lamb chops are delightful, and delicate, and lamb roast is like putting spring in your mouth. If you actually like the flavour of it though, and want something with a tad more texture and bit more life to it, mutton is where it’s at. It’s also, in my view, more versatile than lamb: you can very very slow cook it until it falls apart, you can flash fry the chops (and the kidneys are divine), you can stick it in pies and sausages, and stews and – well. you get the picture.

These recipes are both from books by Charles Elmé Francatelli, who was – briefly – Chief Cook to Queen Victoria before he departed after some murky business involving fisticuffs and the police (also, everyone who worked from him seemed to dislike him). One, The Modern Cook, was aimed at high end chefs working in large establishments, like him. The other, The Cook’s Guide, was more middling sort. Both are good, though the Modern Cook is tediously attached to garnishes of pureed veg and a zillion annoying cross-references. Still, that’s what sold in 1842…

Mutton Pies à la Windsor (Cook’s Guide): 1lb lean loin of mutton, finely minced with a knife; finely chopped mushrooms, parsley, a small amount of shallot, lots and lots of pepper and salt; a little gravy or thick stock. Mix everything together, and put it in small pies (a fairy cake tray is ideal). Pierce the top of each pie and bake for 45mn-1hr in an over at about 160-180. Apparently they are idea for ‘the sportsman’s bag of prog’. (I used a pastry from a Larousse of 1938 – 500g flour, 125g butter, 1 whole small egg, 15g salt).

Mutton cutlets with chestnut purée (Modern Cook): season the cutlets, egg them with a pastry brush dipped in the yolk, dip in breadcrumbs, then in melted butter, then in breadcrumbs again. Fry in very hot clarified butter. Serve with a chestnut purée made by simmering (previously cooked, peeled and probably in a tin chestnuts) in a bit of very good chicken or beef stock for 15-20mn, then adding a scant tsp of sugar, nutmeg and 1/2 pt of cream. Reduce this little lot on the stove and blitz or mash. Add a knob of butter just before serving.

Links…

The Kitchen Cabinet, Be in the Audience
Francatelli’s Modern Cook
Francatelli’s Cook’s Guide
Graig Farm Mutton (amazing)
The Smiling Sheep (wherein I have just obtained 10yo mutton and am very very excited)

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2 thoughts on “Old sheep are the best sheep

  1. Delighted to hear Kitchen Cabinet is back and I love the sound of both of those mutton recipes. I’ve tried to persuade my otherwise very obliging local sheep farmer to sell me hoggett and mutton but he’s loathe to hang onto his animals for that long, sadly.

    Like

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