Seven hour mutton
Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 7 hours
I was brought up on a sheep farm and mutton was one of the meats my family ate regularly. It is less fatty than lamb and has a deeper flavour. In France, mutton is relatively easy to procure and is much cheaper than lamb. This is one of those quick start, slow finish dishes, great for an evening meal at the end of a lazy Sunday or heartening to come back to after an active Sunday out.
‘A la cuillere’ is the exact opposite of the other French way of serving lamb, which is to serve it pink and underdone. Seven hour mutton is easy to prepare, relatively cheap and makes a wholesome, comforting meal during the colder months. This works just as well with a leg of lamb but is considerably more expensive. If you have an Aga, Rayburn or equivalent, this is an ideal “stick it in the bottom oven and come back several hours later” job. I stuck a few big potatoes in the oven an hour and a half before we were due to eat. It took just five minutes before serving to finish the sauce and we had a delicious dinner. Just the sort of Sunday dinner I like to make; high on flavour, low on cook’s effort!
1 leg or gigot of mutton (approx. 2.5kg)
4 onions, quartered
8 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
4 carrots whole if small or halved if large
300 ml dry cider – cidre bouch brut
300 ml brown stock e.g. veal stock – jus de veau
Bouquet of fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
2-3 tablespoons Calvados
Freshly ground black pepper
Make sure you have a lidded casserole dish, preferably cast iron, big enough to accommodate the leg of mutton. You may need to ask the butcher to chop through the shank (bone) so that it folds over to fit into the pan.
Heat the oven to 170C
Place the casserole on the hob at a high heat and seal the seasoned gigot until it is dark brown all over. This will take about 10 minutes. Add a drizzle of oil if the meat sticks – mutton varies in the amount of fat it will ooze. If you have an extractor hood over your hob, put the fan on to remove the smoke. The browning process is very important as the meat is slowly pot braised and will not brown any more during cooking.
Drain off any excess fat.
Throw in the vegetables, the thyme followed by the cider and stock. Bring to the boil, cover with the lid and put in the oven.
Bake for 7 hours. You may want to check the level of liquid half way through cooking and add a little more if it seems too dry but there should not be too much liquid.
The meat will be cooked after 5 hours and offer no resistance to a knife. But to get that French ‘a la cuilliere’ texture so that you can simply spoon the meat on to your plate, the extra cooking time is needed.
There is no need to rest the mutton before serving, simply transfer the meat and vegetables to a warmed serving dish.
Strain the juices and boil the sauce, adjust the seasoning and add the Calvados. If you prefer a thicker gravy you can achieve this by the addition of a little flour and water paste. Serve the sauce with the mutton and vegetables. We accompanied it with a baked potato. Gorgeous!