What is Mutton?

Mary McMahon

Mutton is meat which is harvested from a mature sheep, so it tends to be tough, with a more complex flavor than lamb, meat from younger sheep. Many parts of the world use mutton in their cuisine extensively; the Middle East, for example, is home to many famous recipes that include this meat. In other regions, consumers tend to prefer lamb, so it can be challenging to obtain. In the United States, for example, mutton is extremely rare, and consumers may need to track down a boutique butcher to obtain the meat.

Rogan josh is an Indian curry traditionally made with mutton or lamb.
Rogan josh is an Indian curry traditionally made with mutton or lamb.

Generally, mutton comes from a sheep that is over two years of age. The sheep may be male or female, although meat from rams can be extremely gamy due to their hormonal balance. The meat is tougher because the animal is older, but it also has a more developed flavor. Since mutton is so tough, it needs to be cooked carefully; it benefits from long, slow simmering which will make it extremely tender while bringing out the flavor.

The meat harvested from mature sheep is known as mutton.
The meat harvested from mature sheep is known as mutton.

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Lamb, on the other hand, comes from a sheep which is less than one year old. In many countries, the bulk of the available lamb on the market is from sheep under six months of age. Because the animal is so young, lamb is extremely tender, and it can be prepared in a wide range of ways; lamb often tastes better rare, however. Many people who express distaste for lamb have experienced overcooked lamb which tends to be bland, dry, and chewy.

Mutton is more flavorful and tough than the meat harvested from a young lamb.
Mutton is more flavorful and tough than the meat harvested from a young lamb.

In some countries, meat from sheep between one and two years of age is called hoggett. Because these sheep are of an intermediate age, hoggett is not as tender as lamb, but not as tough as mutton, either. Some recipes call specifically for hoggett, while other cooks may prefer it because it mixes a bit of the best of both meats.

The Middle East is home to many famous recipes that use mutton.
The Middle East is home to many famous recipes that use mutton.

Mutton is an efficient food, because it takes advantage of the myriad uses of sheep. A sheep used for its meat may first be used for wool and milk, or to produce lambs to strengthen the herd. As sheep age and become less economically valuable, they can be converted to mutton.

Mutton stew is a common dish.
Mutton stew is a common dish.

Mutton stew or curry is a common dish. Since stews and curries lend themselves well to slow cooking, mutton is an ideal meat for them. It may also be roasted, although the roasting needs to be performed at a low temperature to keep the meat tender as it cooks. Many Indian dishes feature mutton, because beef is not eaten in most of India. It pairs particularly well with the heavy spices used in a great deal of Indian cuisine, and it can be roosted in tandoori ovens, slowly simmered in curries, or even fried in some dishes.

After being used for their milk and wool, sheep can be slaughtered for mutton when old.
After being used for their milk and wool, sheep can be slaughtered for mutton when old.
Mutton korma, an Indian dish, is made with yogurt and fresh herbs.
Mutton korma, an Indian dish, is made with yogurt and fresh herbs.

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Discussion Comments

anon177570

In my eating experience (which comprises 16 breeds of sheep) the breed determines gaminess way more than age. We just butchered 2 two-year-old Cotswold (the breed) rams and they're far less gamy than lamb of most commercial breeds. The lamb from Cotswold and Icelandic is simply non-gamy and is much like beef, only way tenderer and more "buttery."

anon156945

Mouton = French for sheep.

Pretty much all culinary terms for meat in English come from French.

anon156865

What does mutton look like?

anon141023

Jamaicans refer to goat meat as 'mutton'. We do, however, know that 'mutton' refers to sheep meat, but we rarely (if ever) eat sheep meat.

anon134071

Probably from the french word "mouton", meaning sheep.

anon89923

As a foreigner living in India for the past three years I have seen mutton on the menu in nearly every restaurant I have been in. It was only a few weeks ago that I found out that mutton, here in south India, means goat. Which in the end only makes sense, since I have never seen a single lamb!

lokithebeak

Why is it called mutton? The word alone doesn't sound very edible.

I would like to try it though, especially in an authentic Indian curry.

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