Showing posts with label mutton. lamb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mutton. lamb. Show all posts

Sep 19, 2016

Ingredient of the Week- The Mysteries of Mutton

Ingredient of the Week The Mysteries of Mutton life, love, nepal, mutton. lamb, sheep, goat, chyangra, shangri-la, Dashain,
Mutton? Naaaaah!

Mutton specifically means the meat of an adult sheep in Western countries. However, in South Asia mutton refers to meat from a goat or sheep of any age. Although sheep and goat meat are similar in taste they can vastly differ in texture, fat content, and intensity of flavor. The breed, the age, and the way the animal was raised can result in variances of flavor and texture also.

What's the difference between sheep and goats? 
While both hail from the subfamily Caprinae each is a distinct genus and species. Sheep (Ovis aries) have 54 chromosomes, while goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) have 60. The easiest way to tell the difference between a sheep and goat is to look at their tails. Goat's tails are usually up unless sick or distressed. Sheep tails hang down whether docked (shortened) or not. Sheep have a split upper lip, goats do not. Goats have beards, sheep do not. Sheep are grazers preferring short, tender grasses and clovers. Goat are foragers and will eat darned near anything high or low. Most often sheep have wool, whereas goats have hair. However, there are "hair sheep" without wool and goats with long hair that looks like wool. Goats are far more common than sheep in South Asia and are the preferred red meat here in Nepal. There are many different types of goats and sheep across South Asia depending upon elevation and climate. 

A bakra strolling down Bibi's driveway and soon to be our guest of honor for Eid.
The photo you see above is a typical young Nepali goat weighing about 18kgs/40lbs. This type of male goat is called a bakra in Hindi and a bokaa in Nepali. In general bakra meat is the toughest in texture and the most gamey or goaty in flavor of all the meats called mutton in South Asia. The flavor and texture of the meat from this type of goat can vary a bit by season. In the warmer months the local goats are slaughtered and the meat can be rather fatty, rubbery, and gelatinous. In the cooler months goats are brought down from higher elevations, their flesh tends to be leaner, tougher, and quite fibrous. (You definitely need a pressure cooker or 3-4 hours to cook this type of mutton to a tender state.) Most Nepalis will tell you black or brown colored goats are considered to be the tastiest.

Khasi = castrated goat
The first time I saw this at a Nepali wedding I was a bit confused. Khasi is pronounced "khah- she." Khasi is the name of an ethnic group in the eastern Himalayas. Khashi also means pious or devoted in Arabic and Urdu. What khasi or khashi meant in this context is a castrated male goat. The meat from castrated goats is considered a delicacy and purported to be milder in flavor as well as richer in fat content. If you see a goat on a spit like this you know there's a grand event taking place, this is like the Nepali equivalent of a wedding cake. If you look closely you can see the skin of the goat is still intact except for a few knife punctures. Some Nepalis like to eat the crispy skin of the goat with the fatty layer attached. After the goat has been slaughtered Nepalis will pour boiling water on it or use a propane blowtorch to remove the hair from the skin. I'm not certain if other South Asian peoples eat the skin like this. I did not partake of the khasi ko masu as it was not halal so I can't comment on it's flavor. Kashmiris do not eat the skin of a goat or sheep, the pelt is saved intact for use in making leather or fur items.

Chyangra is domesticated mountain goat in Nepal.
This domesticated mountain goat is called a chyangra which is pronounced "tsang-rah." These long haired goats live in the higher elevations of the Himalayas and are raised for fiber as well as meat. If you buy a pashmina from Nepal most likely the fiber was plucked from the underside of a chyangra. Chyangras are only brought down from the mountains in the Fall around the time of festival of Dashain for sacrifice. They are quite delicious! Their meat is dark, lean, rich, and surprisingly tender with a flavor much like good quality venison. I have a theory about the name of the fictional utopia called Shangri-La in James Hilton's famed book Lost Horizon. Others have guessed Shangri-La was a corruption of Shambhala, the name of the mythical Buddhist kingdom mentioned in Kalachakra teachings. Some have linked it to a region in Tibet called Tsang. I think Mr Hilton derived the name from "chyangra-la" which roughly translates to "mountain goat pass." 

Another guest of honor for Eid. Sheep always look so depressed. 
Sheep are called bheda in Nepali and khhut in Kashmiri. Their meat is also called mutton in South Asia or bheda ko masu in Nepal. No matter what their age or size sheep meat is definitely less gamey in flavor and far more tender than goats. This little guy would qualify as lamb in western terms as he's only a year old. I'd never seen sheep at the market before here in Nepal. Kashmiris prefer sheep and think goat's too strong in flavor and a bit second rate. We usually buy a couple of chyangras but they didn't have any at the market yet so we bought this bheda. I think it's due to lack of grazing pasture that the sheep are so small in Nepal.

Kaju sheep being sold for Eid in Kashmir.
These festively decorated rams are called cashew sheep or kaju khhut in Kashmir. In addition to grazing in the lush alpine valleys of Kashmir they have been feasting upon cashews and all sorts of goodies to fatten them up. This is what we usually have for Eid in Kashmir. They are huge (like up to 150kg/330lbs) and quite yummy! Kaju sheep are the most tender, succulent, rich, delicately flavored lamb you've ever eaten. No pressure cooker required for these beauties!

And then comes the messy part. After the animal has been slaughtered or sacrificed the mutton is usually chopped into whatever sized bits you wish with a cleaver on a wooden block. All of the animal is used. Every mutton eating culture in South Asia usually has specific recipes for nearly every part of the sheep or goat. In Nepal even the fried solidified blood is made into a special dish served during the festival of Dashain called rakahti.

Goin' to a party?

On October 8th of this year the Hindu festival of Dashain will start in Nepal. It is the longest, most popular, and most auspicious holiday on the Nepalese calendar. It is called Dussehra in India. Animal sacrifices are required during Dashain as the festival commemorates the bloody battles between divine and demonic powers. Goats are the most common animal chosen for the sacrifice in Nepal. The Nepalese government estimates the Kathmandu valley alone will demand around 60,000 goats during this celebration. Goat farmers in Nepal will only be able to supply about 20,000 goats so the remaining 40,000 goats will be have to be imported from India.

They're doing WHAT in Kathmandu?

That concludes today's discussion of mutton. Our internet provider has informed us that they will be upgrading their system for the next three weeks. This will cause internet service to be intermittently slow or nonexistent during this time. (Personally, I think they're just going on holiday for Dashain.) So, I'll be trying to post at least once or twice a week if possible. Bear with me!

Calmly currying on,
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