23 March 2017

Braised mutton shoulder with borlotti beans

Mutton used to be one of the most popular meats in Britain. Due to changing tastes and changing farming practices, it has fallen massively out of fashion since the 1960s. There has been a resurgent interest in mutton in the last few years, but it is still something of a rarity. This is a great shame, as mutton has a fantastic flavour; stronger and more intense than lamb. The fat distribution varies by breed, but mutton usually has more fat marbling than lamb. Because of this, it is well suited to slow cooking. And when it comes to slow cooking mutton, my favourite cut is the shoulder.

Braised mutton shoulder with borlotti beans

This recipe pairs slow-cooked meat with pulses. This is something we don't do much of in British cooking, but which the French and embrace in the classic cassoulet. Meat and beans make great bedfellows. The beans soak up the juices from the meat, making them extra yummy, and provide a contrast in texture and flavour to the richness of the meat. This dish contains a secret ingredient: anchovies. This might sound a bit odd, but adds extra umami deliciousness to the beans. Tinned beans are a hugely convenient thing, but this is a dish where cooking the beans from dried really pays dividends. If you use tinned, they will end up being too mushy. If you cannot source any mutton, the recipe also works well with lamb or hogget (hogget being a sheep between one and two years), but mutton works best. The recipe should feed about 6-7 people.


250g dried borlotti beans
1 shoulder mutton (about 2kg)
1 tin anchovies
1 large onion
1 carrot
1 stick celery
5 cloves garlic + 1 head garlic
1l chicken/brown stock
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
1 lemon
250ml white wine
Extra virgin olive oil

Soak the beans overnight in cold water.

The following morning, place the beans in a large pan with plenty of fresh cold water. Add one of the bay leaves and a head of garlic. Bring to the boil, and skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Turn down to a simmer and add a good splash of oil. Do not add any salt, as this can prevent the beans from softening.

I find the time it takes to cook dried beans can vary enormously. The only way to know if they are cooked is to try one, which I usually do after about an hour. You want the bean to be soft, but retaining its shape. If they go too far they will start to disintegrate. Once the beans are cooked, add a pinch of salt and grind of pepper and allow to cool in their liquor.

The mutton shoulder will enjoy being cooked for a good four hours, so start cooking at least five hours before you intend to eat. This should give you time to get all the prep done, and to rest the shoulder a little when it comes out the oven.

Preheat your oven to 140C/280F. You will need either a large casserole dish or deep-sided roasting tray in which to cook the meat. Get this on the hob over a gentle heat.

Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic cloves, and sweat these down in the casserole dish/roasting tray. You want them to soften and brown a little. Drain the anchovies and add these to the pan along with a bay leaf and the rosemary, which should be finely chopped. Allow the anchovies to break up for a minute or so, then add the white wine. Turn up the heat and allow the wine to reduce by about two-thirds.

Meanwhile drain the beans, retaining the cooking liquor which can be used elsewhere as a vegetable stock.

Add the beans to the pan along with the chicken/brown stock. Grate the zest of the lemon into the pan then nestle the mutton shoulder on top of the beans. Seal in with plenty of tin foil (or the lid if using a casserole dish), and pop in the oven.

Mutton - Mmmm!

Leave to braise in the oven for a good four hours. Check periodically to ensure that there is still some stock in the tray. If it runs low, you can top up with some of the cooking liquor from the borlotti beans.

You now have several hours in which to relax, enjoy a glass of wine, and think about what to eat with your mutton. My suggestion is a good slab of gratin potatoes and some steamed greens with lashings of butter.

When the mutton is cooked it should be soft and yielding. You should be able to insert a paring knife with little resistance. Place the mutton shoulder on a warm platter and cover loosely with foil.

Drain the beans, retaining the remaining cooking liquor. The liquor will be your gravy, and is delicious. If it looks a little thin, place in a pan on the stove and reduce rapidly. Taste and season.

Place the beans in a pan and keep warm.

Serve the mutton shoulder on the beans. Carve the meat off the bone and serve with the juice.


  1. Perfect for a Sunday dinner in early spring. Americans are generally wary of mutton ~ I think it has something to do with soldiers having to subsist on canned mutton during WWII, and the stigma remains decades later. I love the mutton in Italy, which I describe as "teenage" lamb ~ flavorful but not so strong that it's a turn off. Your slow-cooked version sounds delicious.

    1. Thanks Domenica, pleased you enjoyed the post. Canned mutton doesn't sound so tasty...