With both personal eating habits and the CSA, it's important for us to respect the animals that are part of our food chain. This extends not only to consuming the whole animal, but also the "forgotten harvest" animals. Boars, older cows, old laying hens and, in the case of this month's CSA, mutton. These particular ewes are Icelandic Sheep from Fence Row Farm in Charlotte. Icelandic Sheep are known for their delicate flavor, so even older animals don't have the heavy lanolin flavor that turn some people off to sheep meat, whether lamb or mutton. While you can enjoy mutton in a variety of cuts, today we'll focus on saddle chops and burgers.
Before we get to burgers, I want to touch on our saddle chops. "Saddle chops, what the heck are saddle chops?", you might ask. The best way to explain saddle chops is to think about two lamb chops together [sitting over the back of the animal, like a saddle], instead of split down the middle. With typical chops, you split the carcass in half, down the spine, and remove the chops from the loin on each side. Here, we keep the carcass intact and simply cut down each side of the ribs, so the two sides of the loin are intact across the spine. This provides for not only more meat, but a beautiful presentation that your friends are unlikely to have ever seen before. We had one for dinner last night (product research and development— it's a tough job but someone has to do quality control!) and it exceeded all expectations. We worked with our processor to age these animals for 14 days, which is very atypical for lamb or mutton. Why did we do that, you ask? It's common practice for beef [think the scene from Rocky where he's in the meat locker]. It allows for tenderness and flavor development The results will speak for themselves.
Mutton Saddle Chops with salt, pepper and thyme
Defrost your saddle chop the night before you're going to cook it. Once defrosted, the morning of the day in which you're going to cook it, generously salt both sides of the chop and return to the fridge for the day.
When you're ready to get the grill going, remove the chop from the fridge and let come to room temperature.
Get your grill going and set up in such a way that you can cook with both direct and indirect heat.
Before you place the chop on the grill, rub generously with a fresh bunch of thyme on both sides. Separate the bunch and press so that it sticks on the meat and you can grill with it sticking to the meat.
Once the grill is ready, start the chop on the indirect side of the grill and cook, flipping every 1 - 2 minutes until an internal temp reaches between 110 and 120. Remove from heat and let cool down for about 5 - 10 minutes.
While your meat is coming down in temp, make sure that your direct heat side is screaming hot. Do not remove any sprigs of thyme that have remained stuck to the meat.
When the grill is screaming hot, place the steak on the grill and move frequently over the course of 1 - 2 minutes per side. This will give you full coverage of the surface of the meat. Grill marks are overrated and are lost opportunities for crust and flavor development. Keep flipping and when your chop hits 130 - 135, remove from grill and let rest for 5 - 10 minutes.
When it comes to making burgers by hand, there are as many methods and opinions as there are ... Well you know how the saying goes. The following is how we do it at HSF, and we think it works pretty well. The key to a good burger is an even shape, a light pack and proper cooking. What you don't want to do is mix the ground meat so much that it becomes sticky and paste-like. This is is what you're looking for in sausage making, to ensure a bind of the meat, but for burgers, it's about a light mixing and letting the cooking process help to develop the binding of the meat. This will ensure even cooking and a juicy burger. A great reference for this, and even more specific detail is from Serious Eats:
One of the great things about mutton, and lamb for that matter, is the boldness of the flavor. Note that I did not say "gamey." Gamey meat is a result of a poor diet and, to some degree, the breed of the sheep. These mutton are older Icelandic ewes and the flavor is clean, bold and quite frankly, an umami bomb. The aging mentioned above is a great tool to help bring this characteristic out and we couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.
When you think of flavors to pair with mutton or lamb, except for simply salt and pepper of course, you think of anything from mint to yogurt, from cumin to spicy chilis. The ability of the mutton to hold and support flavor is unparalleled when you're talking about a "red" meat. Recipes are numerous, so I'll spare you the detailing of all them here, but I will provide you with a few flavor combinations and recipes that are a favorite for us:
- Cumin, coriander and thyme
- Smoked paprika and fennel
- Curry and mint
- Mint, parsley, garlic and lemon zest
- Grilled or charred onions
- Tzatziki Sauce
- Cumin and Yogurt
- Mint jelly, chutney or oil
- Cumin Crust
All the spicing and shaping in the world will be for naught if you don't grill or cook the burger correctly. The best methods for cooking a burger, in our opinion, are with a cast iron pan, broiler or on a charcoal grill. Here are two reference articles from J. Kenji Lopez over at Serious Eats again. In case you haven't picked up on it btw, he's one of my favorite food science guys on the web and I refer to his work a lot.
We'd love to hear how you take these tips and make them your own... let us know in the comments!