February 27th, 2015 by Ed Bruske
Recently we dipped our toes into our new world of mutton with a simple stew and our sheep passed. But last night was the real test: shank, our favorite cut. The results were superb. Even my wife judged this slow-braised dish “excellent,” which is extremely important for the viability of our little farm. Years ago, when I was a freelancing food writer, my wife lost her taste for lamb after I subjected her to too much in the way ovine recipe research. Now that we are herders of sheep, the basement chest freezer is bound to fill with meat needing to be eaten.
We claimed for ourselves one of the two ewes recently culled from our flock. Both these ladies were nearly three years old. Could the meat possibly be edible? My own view is that mutton–from older sheep–is superior to young lamb, much as an aged Cabernet Sauvignon would outshine an ordinary red wine. The texture is very much the same, but the flavors are deeper, earthier, more complex. Yet there’s none of that “gamey” taste that people apparently fear from mutton. My guess is that very few people have ever eaten true mutton to actually know the difference. Or, they have eaten mutton that was incorrectly labeled “lamb” from the supermarket and didn’t even realize.
We are partial to the heartier cuts of meat that require long, slow cooking. Unfortunately, one sheep has only four shanks to give, so do take care in how you prepare them. The recipe I used derives originally from the Union Square Cafe in New York. The meat is initially seasoned and browned, of course, then cooked in a 250-degree oven for three hours in a broth of white wine and stock flavored with rosemary and mint. When the meat is practically falling off the bone, the lid comes off the pot and the dish bakes another 30 minutes with the oven temperature raised to 500 degrees.
Along with a salad, we served it with a mash of potatoes and celery root–a perfect winter meal, to our minds.