These spiced braised mutton chops (or is it mutton stew?) are comfort food perfection! For this dish, mutton rib chops and loin chops are braised for hours in a sauce made with tangy freshly pureed tomatoes, sweet dried apricots and lots of warming spices and aromatics such as ginger, cumin, cinnamon and clove, until the meat is super tender and soft – trust me, it’s good!
Lamb is an incredibly popular meat over here in Greece and I’m sure many of you have had lamb before as well – but what about mutton? I know I hadn’t tried this grown-up version of lamb until I came to Greece and I have read that many people steer away from mutton – if you can even find it at your local butchers, or on a regular restaurant’s menu – believing it’s old-tasting, indelibly tough, and pungent… and they’re kind of right (but also not, so hear me out!).
In comparison to lamb, mutton is indeed a lot tougher and the flavor is definitely stronger and more rounded and gamey. As someone who really enjoys ‘pungent’ (perhaps we should call it ‘aromatic’, or ‘piquant’), strong-tasting foods, I enjoy mutton exactly for that reason… and you should too! It’s delicious!
Most importantly, when treated well, mutton doesn’t need to be tough and ‘old-tasting’ either.
For maximum mutton enjoyment, the meat needs a good slow braise at a low temperature, after which the meat does turn incredibly soft and sticky and just delicious. Furthermore, besides the breaking down of collagen and proteins and all that good stuff that comes with slow-cooking, seemingly contradictory to the ‘tough and old’ notions linked to mutton, mutton can actually be quite fatty (another thing I really enjoy, but which others might not). Adding some ‘fatty bits’ to the pot can actually help to tenderize the leaner, tougher parts and help make your dish taste rich and decadent. Good stuff. Make sure you keep some bones in there as well for some of that bone marrow-y goodness.
And don’t worry about this dish tasting too overwhelmingly ‘fatty’. The slight sourness of fresh tomatoes and the sweetness of dried apricots really help cut through the fat while the aromatic spices, chilies and ginger give it a bit of a kick (also pairs wonderfully with a nice red wine on the side)! Sure, technically you could replace the mutton in this dish with lamb if you really have to, but I believe mutton is truly truly delicious and moreish and we should definitely be eating it more(ish).
Spiced Braised Mutton with Dried Apricots (Mutton Stew)
- 1 – 1.2kg mutton rib chops, or loin chops, alternatively use mutton shoulder cut into chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 yellow onions, very thinly sliced
- 1 – 2 fresh chili peppers, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root (or more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 large tomatoes, pureed* (about 600g)
- ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 20 dried apricots, roughly chopped
- Handful of fresh mint leaves, to serve
- (optional) steamed white rice, to serve
- *not canned tomato puree/paste! See step 1 of the recipe.
- Make tomato puree: this recipe calls for freshly pureed tomatoes, not tomato paste. Simply add the fresh tomatoes to a blender, or food processor and process until relatively smooth. Set aside.
- Brown the meat: Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a Dutch oven or large pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, brown the mutton on all sides. Remove meat from the Dutch oven, or pot onto a plate.
- Sauté vegetables and aromatics: Turn down the heat to medium and add the onions to the pot with the meat juices. Fry until slightly browned for about 6 minutes. Add the chopped fresh chili pepper, crushed garlic cloves, grated fresh ginger root, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground cloves, cardamom pods and the cinnamon stick to the onions and fry until fragrant for a few minutes more.
- Braise: Add the pureed tomatoes to the pot with aromatics and return the browned mutton to the pan. Pour in enough water so the meat is about halfway submerged. Season with salt and pepper, then cover with a lid and cook on low heat for 2 ½ hours stirring occasionally until the meat starts to get tender. Add a little more water if the sauce gets too dry during cooking.
- Add apricots: After 2½ hours, uncover the pot and add the chopped dried apricots. Continue braising uncovered for at least ½ hour up to 1 hour more* until the meat is very tender and the liquids have reduced and thickened. I add the apricots in this later step, so they do not totally disintegrate into the sauce.
- [optional] If serving with white rice, start cooking rice while the sauce is reducing during step 5 of this recipe.
- Serve: Serve hot ladled over steamed white rice and with some roughly torn fresh mint leaves over the top (optional).