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Chef masterclass: Lakeland Herdwick mutton by Marcus Wareing

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Chef masterclass: Lakeland Herdwick mutton by Marcus Wareing
Written by:

At Marcus Wareing’s flagship restaurant, Marcus, at the Berkeley hotel in London, head chef Mark Froydenlund serves an ultra-modern take on the classic mutton dishes that were once central to British food. Michael Raffael reports

For decades French restaurants have traded on appellation contrôlée meats – prestige names such as Bresse chicken or Sisteron lamb. The UK has been slow to catch up, but most producers are now fully aware that a European Protected Denomination of Origin tag (see box, p38) is a valuable asset. It adds credibility to food items that may have struggled in the past for the recognition they deserve.

In 2013 Lakeland Herdwick sheep joined Europe’s ‘distinctly different’ club, and the meat certainly deserves its place. Not only does it come from a small geographical area (the Lake District) but it also has a distinct eating quality that contrasts with most other commercially reared lamb. Slow grown, it produces a darker, juicier, firmer-textured meat.

It’s marketed as lamb at about eight months old, as hogget when over a year and as mutton at two years old. In all three instances the flavour is closer to the mutton that was dear to our forebears.

At Marcus Wareing’s flagship restaurant, Marcus, at the Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge, London, head chef Mark Froydenlund serves the pan-roasted rump and poached portions of leg together. It’s an ultra-modern take on the classic mutton dishes that were once central to the British culinary repertoire.

Planning

• If the legs arrive already hung for around 12 days, the kitchen will bone them straight away.

• The rumps are brined overnight. The lean leg portions are vacpacked and brined for three to four hours ahead of service.

• Stock is part of the basic mise en place and a prepared batch of sauce will last a day.

• The leg-plus-sauce portions are water-bath poached to order. Each rump (two servings on the à la carte menu) is pan-roasted and
rested to order.

• The potatoes and other garnishes are integrated with service.

Note: Best end of mutton replaces the rumps if these run out.

Portioning

Each portion combines pan-roasted rump with leg poached in sauce. Because the rumps only yield two main course servings, but the
legs six to eight servings, Froydenlund will replace the rump with best end of mutton prepared in exactly the same way.

Preparing the legs

Froydenlund describes this as “aggressive trimming”. For one leg of two year-old mutton weighing about 3kg; the joint’s specification includes the rump – still attached to the aitch bone(1).

Remove the rump in a single piece using the aitch bone and the top of the thigh bone (the femur) as guides (2). It weighs about 450g including the covering of fat.

Pare the bark and fat from the leg to uncover the muscles (3). Saw through the exposed bone (4). The leg divides into three: cushion, silverside and thick flank (just as on beef or veal). Remove these from the bone one at a time by following the natural seams that separate
them (5).

Trim any connective tissue off the cushion (the rounded muscle) and the silverside (longer and more fibrous). The remaining joint needs subdividing. Separate into three using the lines of gristle between the lean meat.

At this stage you will have six or seven trimmed pieces of lean meat (they’ll weigh about 1kg) and the rump (6). Keep all the fat, lean trimmings and bones for stock and sauce.

Brining

The rump is immersed overnight in brine (see panel, p39): allow about 200ml per joint. The leg is divided into 120g portions. Vacpack separately with about 100ml brine, a bay leaf and sprig of fresh thyme for three to four hours (7).

After brining, rinse both the rump and the leg portions in cold water. Pat dry.

Cost

At Marcus restaurant, they pay roughly £35 for a leg plus rump of mutton. It features on an £85, three-course menu. By adding best end of mutton/lamb as an alternative to the rumps, the kitchen will expect to achieve six to eight portions or 10 tasting menu servings.

Tips for preparing the mutton

Much of the flavour in mutton is trapped in the fat. It can be used to enhance the taste of lamb/mutton dishes, but use it with discretion because it can be rank when the quality isn’t perfect.

When pan-roasting the rump, it will buckle without a weight on it because the connective tissue between fat and flesh contracts on contact with the heat.

Not all customers enjoy the crisp fat on the rump. It can be trimmed to suit an individual’s preference.

Garnishes and accompaniments

  • Boulangère potatoes the classic potato and onion recipe baked with mutton broth but with a topping of winter savory and mascarpone; served in small individual casseroles.
  • Calçots onions that look like leeks. Bake and remove the outer layers before charring on the range
  • White onion fondue topped with a sprinkling of crisp shallots dusted in charcoal powder Banana shallot crisp
  • Purple sprouting broccoli stem
  • Blanched grelot (spring onion)
  • Raw grumello (baby radicchio) leaves
  • A little brown onion broth (optional)

Meat brine

Makes about 4 litres

  • 2g white peppercorns
  • 2g coriander seeds
  • 2g fennel seeds
  • 1 halved head of garlic
  • 10g fresh rosemary
  • 10g thyme
  • 15g liquid smoke (MSK)
  • 2 litres red wine
  • 2 litres water
  • 200g black treacle
  • 140g salt
  • 2g pink pickling salt

Toast the white peppercorns and coriander seeds until fragrant. Boil the red wine and water with the black treacle, salt and pink pickling salt. Lightly crush the toasted peppercorns and coriander seeds, then add them to the liquid along with the fennel seeds, garlic, rosemary, thyme and liquid smoke. Leave to infuse off the heat.

Chill the mixture and use as necessary.

Mutton sauce

Makes 1.5 litres

  • 250g roasted lamb fat pieces
  • (25mm dice) 225g butter
  • 250g lean mutton trimmings
  • 500g chopped mutton bones
  • 200g sliced shallots
  • 100g diced celery
  • 100g diced carrots
  • 300g rendered lamb/mutton fat
  • 1 head of garlic, crushed
  • Salt (bear in mind that the leg meat will already have been brined)
  • 1 litre white wine
  • 1.5 litres reduced veal stock
  • 1.5 litres reduced lamb stock
  • 100g quartered tomato
  • 10g thyme
  • 10g rosemary
  • 5 white peppercorns
  • 150-250ml buttermilk

Lightly brown the diced lamb fat a few pieces at a time in 50g butter. Set aside. In the same pan caramelise the mutton trimmings a few pieces at a time and reserve.

Coat the bones in 125g melted butter and brown in a hot oven. Turn them often. They need to be well coloured. Heat the last of the butter in a clean pan. When it foams add the shallots with a little salt and cook until coloured. Use the same pan to sweat the celery and carrot.
Take the vegetables out of the pan and reserve.

Melt 50g rendered lamb/mutton fat in the same pan, add the garlic and fry until the skins start to colour. Take out of the pan and reserve.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and boil to evaporate the alcohol. Boil the two stocks in a separate pan, then combine with the pan containing the alcohol. Reduce by about a quarter, skimming often. Add the roasted bones and simmer for 30 minutes more.

Strain the sauce base into a clean pan and add the reserved mutton trimmings, vegetables, garlic, tomato, herbs and peppercorns.

Simmer for 20 minutes, pass through muslin and reduce to obtain a concentrated sauce. Whisk in the rest of the lamb fat and chill.  When portioning the sauce (for poaching with the leg) stir in the buttermilk.

Rump of Herdwick mutton, leg, boulangère potatoes, calçots 

Serves 1

Note: it’s impractical to pan-roast individual portions of rump, so the meat section will roast a whole rump at a time, rest it and carve into two portions

  • 1 x 120g brined mutton leg
  • 100ml mutton sauce (see panel, page 39)
  • Salt
  • 1 mutton rump
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, skin on
  • Sprig of thyme
  • Garnishes and accompaniments

Put the leg in a vacuum pouch with the sauce. Seal. Poach in a water bath for 12 minutes at 63°C. Sprinkle salt on the bark (fatty side) of the rump. Heat the oil in a small pan. Lay the rump fat side down and fry gently until browned. Place a weight on the meat to keep the surface flat and the colouring even. When it has coloured (after about 12 minutes), add the butter, garlic and thyme. Finish cooking, about four minutes more, basting the meat all the time and turning it over so the lean meat starts to brown. Rest the meat for at least five minutes before carving into two pieces. Remove the leg from its pouch and keep the sauce hot in a small pan. Slice the leg thickly on the slant.
Plate up with the garnishes and accompaniments. 

Mark Froydenlund and Marcus Wareing


Marcus Wareing describes the 2014 makeover of his two-Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley as a new chapter.

“You can’t sit still for five or six years; you have to change,” he says.

In the dining room he wants a more relaxed ambience. The stiff theatre for gastro-tourists, he believes, has had its day. Behind the scenes the has also made adjustments. He doesn’t, he says, go into the kitchen and create new recipes in the same way he used to. Instead, he trusts his head chef, 2013 Acorn Award winner Mark Froydenlund to lead the menu development, although Wareing is still heavily involved and they discuss dishes in great detail.

“If for some reason I had to give the keys to Mark and say I’m coming back in a year, I know that he’d be fine,” says Wareing.

That devolved approach also applies to the chefs at his other restaurants, Tredwell’s and the Gilbert Scott.

“They are talented chefs and I want them to have a sense of freedom, under the guidance of Chantelle Nicholson, my operations director who runs the restaurant and has worked with me for over 10 years both in the kitchens and now in the business,” he explains.

Marcus restaurant remains his home base, his head office. It showcases his achievements and impacts on his other outlets.

“I don’t take recipes and throw them over there [Tredwell’s and the Gilbert Scott] because I want to see chefs express their own creativity, but I take what I know from here and use it to influence the other two.”

The synergy can affect which ingredients they use. The Gilbert Scott, situated in the St Pancras Renaissance hotel, recently had has Herdwick lamb on its menu.

“Raw materials there,” he insists, “have to be just as good, but chefs have to be extra careful when sourcing because the price points and margins are different.”

This year Wareing celebrates his 30th anniversary as a chef and he hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm – he has learned from the successes
and pitfalls of his peers. “I watch what people do, read a lot, have heard a lot and listened to Chinese whispers,” he says.

The sum of his experience has taught him to grow his business slowly and develop the talents of young chefs who pass through his kitchens. “It’s not about me,” he concludes. “It’s about them.”

Lakeland Herdwick sheep

Probably the hardiest breed of high hill sheep in Britain, Lakeland Herdwick sheep survive the toughest winters on the fells. Habitat and diet are key to their eating quality. The meat, still tender, is darker than most lamb and the flavour is more gamey.

Over 90% of it is farmed in heart of the Lake District. There is little difference in taste between the meat of fully grown lamb, hogget(year-old sheep) and the mutton from two-year-olds. This is partly because the lambs are often eight to 10 months old before they are slaughtered. Carcass weight ranges from 14 to 22 kg. Hanging for 10-12 days at chill temperatures enhances the flavour.

Although rare, Lakeland Herdwick sheep are not an endangered species. www.herdwick-sheep.com

Protected Designation of Origin

The EU Protected Food Name scheme highlights regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed. Protected
Designation of Origin (PDO) is open to products that are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics that must be due to the geographical area. Examples include Jersey Royal potatoes, Yorkshire forced rhubarb, Orkney beef and of course Lakeland Herdwick meat.

 

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