Mutton dressed as lamb: The hot water bottle of dinners

You can use lamb for this dish, but the quality of hogget and mutton in Ireland is outstanding and has a fuller flavour than its younger counterpart

Hogget or lamb casserole with herby dumplings

We all have a few guilty pleasures don't we? A few skeletons rattling around in the closet. Now it's confession time . . . I really fancy a job on Ear to the Ground. I also love the shearing championships and adore Dolly Parton. And I believe hogget and mutton are much tastier than lamb.

I reckon hogget and mutton are classic victims of bad PR. If we all just thought of it as ‘slow lamb’ and focused on its origins and breed like we currently do with beef, it would make way more sense. Lamb is generally younger than one year old, while hogget is aged more than one year and mutton is aged more than two years. They are basically sheep that have had at least one great summer and winter grazing on lush grass and local herbs and (#foodtrendalert)most of the time here in the west – on seaweed.

We buy our hogget from Castlemine in Roscommon where the sheep are a mix between Texel, Suffolk and Lleyn. There's a proud sheep farming tradition in Roscommon and by supporting hogget season, which is now, you're supporting a lot of farmers. We were reared on hogget and mutton. In many parts of the world, such as New Zealand, India and Africa, the fuller flavour is still more prized than that of its younger siblings.

The quality of hogget and mutton we have here in Ireland is outstanding. It is high in zinc and protein, grass-fed, completely affordable not to mention fantastic for cold cuts the next day.


I also feel it’s also time to bring back dumplings. No, not the trendy Asian ones, the old-fashioned kind that sick to your ribs, wrap a blanket around you and tell you everything will be alright.

This is a hug of a meal, the hot water bottle of dinners. There’s the complete and utter satisfaction you get from something cooked for a long time. You don’t have to poke, prod or stick something into it to see what temperature it’s at, or cook it in one of those soulless sous vide plastic bags.

Plus the sweetness of the peas and roasted onions perfectly compliments the richness of the casserole and the zesty zing of the crème fraiche helps balance everything out.

Hogget or lamb casserole with herby dumplings

For the stew

8 - 10 hogget or lamb neck chops on the bone 
70ml rapeseed oil  
1 leek 
2 carrots
1 large parsnip 
1/4 of a turnip 
20g fresh sage, rosemary and thyme 
3 garlic cloves 
200g chopped water cress 
2 x 500ml bottles Buried at Sea stout or similar  
30g tomato paste 
20g Marigold vegetable boullion

For the dumplings 
250g self-raising flour 
125g suet or butter 
100g chopped chives 
Salt and pepper 
Milk to bind

Preheat the oven to 160°C. 
Brown the neck chops in the rapeseed oil in a large frying pan.
Add these with all the vegetables and herbs to a casserole dish with a tight fitting lid.
Mix the tomato paste and vegetable boullion with the stout and pour into the casserole dish.
Make sure everything is well covered in liquid, topping up with water if not. Bring everything to the boil on the hob and then put on the tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven. The longer you can leave this one in the oven, the better. Leave the lid on and keep at a low heat until the meat falls off the bone - at least three hours.
Meanwhile, to make the dumplings, rub the flour and fat together using your finger tips as you would if you were making scones. Add the chives and seasoning and a drop of milk at a time until the mixture comes together.

When the meat is cooked to your satisfaction, put the dumpling mix in small even sized pieces on top of the casserole and bake for a further 15 minute with the lid off, until golden.

Roasted red onions, rocket and peas 

Roasted red onions, rocket and peas

3 red onions
2 tbsps olive oil 
25g honey
Salt and cracked black pepper
250g frozen petits pois 
30g fresh mint 
30g butter 
100g rocket leaves

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Peel and slice the onions crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices. Scatter on a lined roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil and honey making sure to get a little on each onion. 
Sprinkle the onions with salt and cracked black pepper and bake for 30 minutes or until the onions are very soft and beginning to brown.
Once the onions are roasted, boil the peas in a pan of salted water. Drain and add the mint and butter. Toss them in the rocket with the roasted onions and serve immediately.

Horseradish and blood orange crème fraiche

Horseradish and blood orange crème fraiche

The blood orange season is short; they are at their very best in late winter so get your hands on them while you can.
Horseradish is not just for beef, it cuts right through this rich stew and packs a real punch. Though horseradish sauce can be purchased ready made in most grocery stores, it can be disappointing and it is far more satisfying to make this yourself. You only need a little for this recipe so use the rest of your root with sushi instead of traditional wasabi or spike your hummus with it. It also makes a bloody great Bloody Mary.

200g of crème fraiche 
10g golden mustard seeds 
5g English mustard powder
25g grated horseradish 
Zest of 2 blood oranges

Method Mix all ingredients together well in a small bowl and cover. Leave overnight in the fridge for the flavours to develop and serve.