Mutton and Harlequin Squash Stew

Eating seasonally is something we often forget to do nowadays, modern supply networks making foods available at all times of the year. It’s strange that we’ve stopped doing so, not only because eating seasonally is much cheaper, but because food tastes a lot better when it grows in the environment it has evolved to thrive in. Similarly, it’s much more environmentally friendly to eat seasonally, since you can use local produce, cutting down on transport costs for foods. Chefs too know the benefits of eating seasonally- Raymond Blanc’s signature restaurant here in Oxfordshire, Le Manoir au Quat’Saisons, is based around this concept, with the character of the restaurant changing with each season, and, like many restaurants, particularly looking to provide seasonal dishes. If you are looking to eat seasonally more, some good recipe books are Gordon Ramsay’s Chef For All Seasons, Mark Hix’s British Seasonal Food, or for more advanced cooks, Raymond Blanc’s Recipes from Le Manoir.

Mutton is the meat from sheep over a year old. It’s more mature and tougher than lamb, the meat from a sheep typically 70-150 days old, which makes mutton less useful than lamb for roasts or chops, but more useful for stewing, just because the flavours are more developed. It used to be that as a society we ate much more mutton, since it was necessary to keep sheep alive for longer, for products like wool and milk. But now, with advances in farming techniques, we can afford to keep sheep around for less time, and enjoy the texture of the younger lamb meat. But if you are making a stew, hotpot or casserole- perfect for winter eating- mutton, with more mature flavours, is the clear choice.

You want to cook mutton in winter and spring- in the summer, the smell of wool grease can flavour the meat unpleasantly. You should be able to get it at your local butchers; if they don’t stock mutton they will be able to order some for you. I got my mutton from Hedges butchers in The Covered Market in Oxford. It’s around the same price as lamb you might buy from Tesco, at around £10 per kilo, but I would imagine that meat from the butchers is better than that from supermarkets. Good mutton will be firm, compact, with dark red flesh and pearly white fat.

Harlequin squashes are best at this time of year too. Small and striped, I’ve used them to make curried squash, stuffed squash, or just roasted them and eaten them as part of a meal. They have a slightly sweeter flavour, I think, than butternut squash- if you like butternut squash, I imagine you will like these a great deal too. They are easy to cook too, all you have to do is puncture them a few times with a knife, then stick them in the oven for an hour. You probably won’t be able to find them in Tesco, but your local farmers’ market will have them- I got mine at the greengrocers in The Covered Market, in Oxford for just over £1 each. Fun with stews as well, their flavour complementing the meatiness present.

Mutton and Harlequin Squash Stew

Serves 4. Good with some rustic mashed potato.

500g mutton, diced
1 harlequin squash (or similar, if you can’t find harlequin)
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 litre beef stock
1 bouquet garni (bay, thyme, parsley)

1. Roast the squash.
Puncture the squash with a knife several times, then roast for an hour. Peel the squash, then cut up into chunks.
2. Make the stew. Brown the onions and mutton, and stick everything in a casserole dish. Simmer for several hours, keeping an eye on the liquid level, adding more water if necessary. About 30 minutes before you want to eat the stew, add the squash.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Chocolate Coated Lebkuchen « oxfood

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