Showing posts with label sheep. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sheep. 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,

Sep 9, 2016

Baed Eid

Next week starts the most holy celebration of the Islamic year called Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) in Arabic or Baed Eid (Big Eid) in Kashmiri. The festival begins at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj.  During the Hajj, Muslims remember and honor the trials and triumphs of great patriarch and Prophet Abraham. This holiday honors the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son. Just when the Prophet Abraham was prepared to perform the sacrifice, the angel Jibra'il (Gabriel) intervened telling him that his sacrifice had already been fulfilled.

The Sacrifice of Isaac  by Caravaggio 
With this act of obedience the Prophet Abraham had shown that his love for Allah was above all others, and that he would willingly lay down the lives of those dearest to him in submission to Allah. Muslims commemorate this trial of the Prophet Abraham by the halal slaughtering of an animal such as a sheep, camel, cow, or goat. Allah has given us dominance over animals and allowed us to eat meat, but only if we pronounce His name at the solemn act of taking life. 

Kashmiri women at Eid prayers
On the first morning of Eid ul-Adha, Muslims worldwide attend morning prayers. Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayers. Prayers are followed by visits with family and friends, the exchange of greetings (Eid Mubarak), and give gifts called Eidi.

Kashmiri men at Eid prayers
At some point during the festival Muslims who can afford it sacrifice a halal domestic animal such as a goat, sheep, camel, yak, or cow in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. The sacrificed animals are called qurbani and must be of a certain age and standards of perfection or the animal is considered unacceptable. (In Kashmir a sheep fattened up on cashews and other goodies is preferred. Every once in a while some affluent Kashmiri buys a camel or yak to show off I suppose. Camel and yak really don't taste that great.)

Sheep being sold for Baed Eid in Kashmir
The animal (qurbani) is slaughtered in the halal manner and the meat is traditionally divided into three portions. One-third is eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends and neighbors, and one-third is donated to the poor. This act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us in order to follow Allah's commands, to strengthen ties within the community, and to help those who are in need. 

Traditional Kashmiri mutton-a-palooza!
(Every part of the sheep is used in a specific dish)
In addition to distributing qurbani to the poor the meat is prepared and often served at mosques so that those less fortunate do not miss this sacrificial meal. Many Muslims also take this opportunity to invite their non-Muslim friends, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates to their Eid festivities to better acquaint them with Islam and Muslim culture. (This means Bibi's going to be cooking a lot- not just meat but treats too!)

Eidi or the gifts given over Eid traditionally take the form of money, presents such as smartphones and perfume, or even flowers. Usually it is children who receive eidi from uncles and their parents.

From our family to yours:
May the blessings of Allah bring you hope, faith, and joy!  Happy Eid ul-Adha 2016!
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