On Mutton.

pp. 19–25.

We must make no pretense about it, the sheep that arrive in herds in Paris are much inferior to the cattle and even to the calves. If one wishes to eat an excellent one, it is necessary to take it from far away and bring it expressly. Those of the Ardennes, Cabourg, Pré-Salé, and Arles take, with no contest, the top rank. One could mention afterwards those of Beauvais, Reims, Dieppe, and Avranche; but those of Berri, the Sologne and the outskirts of the Capital are generally scentless and their flesh is stringy and rarely tender. It rests therefore to opulent men and those who work seriously toward the glory of their table (because money alone does not suffice to create fine food), to eat this animal in all of its goodness. But the Parisian who has never traveled is not as fussy and accommodates himself extremely well to the mutton he finds at the butcher’s. That from Cotentin is the best one can find there.

Leg of mutton is the most common roast at bourgeois tables. But although vulgar, it is nevertheless a nourishing and succulent comestible especially if, as awaited as the bingo of the French lottery, as mortifié as a liar caught in the act; and as blood-drenched as a terroriste, it retains all at the same time its flavor, its tenderness and its succulence.*  It is enough to say that it should not be overly cooked in order to be eaten in all of its glory. Long streams of juice should flow out of its flanks when it is carved; its slices, thin and of a handsome crimson red, will then be deliciously savored by the palate before furnishing the most impaired stomachs with a food as healthy as it is solid. If the leg of mutton is undercooked it is easy to remedy, even after it has been carved, by placing the slices into a casserole for a moment on strong heat; but if it is overcooked there is no remedy; it’s an irreparable misfortune! This point, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult to seize; because one turn more or less of the spit makes the shame or the most distinguished glory of the leg of mutton. But these are the facts that books alone cannot teach and that even experience does not at all suffice to learn.  The art of roasting meat to a precise point is one of the most difficult that exists. One finds a thousand good cooks against a single, perfect roaster. A hundred cities in Europe have a reputation for creating excellent ragoûts, but, if one believes Madame Turcaret, one only eats excellent roasts in Valogne.**

The leg of mutton that is not found tender enough to support the honors of the spit performs well in a braise, or, under the name of seven-hour leg of mutton, lies gently splayed out over a bed of vegetables, which vary according to the seasons. For this, one makes a mattress of Soissons beans, chicory, celery, spinach, etc., etc. These legs, glazed with a good jus, cooked in a skillful broth, and seasoned according to the principles of the art, provide highly esteemed relevés and even sometimes take the place of the roast at unpretentious tables.

The shoulder, on the spit, is often tenderer than the leg, and it has a particular flavor that wins over many amateurs. However, this roast, disdained through pride and opulence, is ordinarily that of the poor. The shoulder, as accommodating as the leg, can also be made into numerous other preparations. It is eaten baked, en ballon, in a pastry crust, à la roussie, and even à la Sainte Menehoult. The intelligence of a great cook is an inexhaustible catalog of skillful recipes.  Loin of mutton is also eaten as a roast but more often as an entrée, presented on a throne of vegetables as braised leg of mutton is. Those in a terrine à l’anglaise, with lentils, and those à la Conti are highly esteemed. One also eats really good ones with cucumbers but one is very aware that this is not possible in this season. A loin of mutton roasted on the spit and studded with parsley is never an indifferent dish. It is the roast of philosophy. For the rest, each month, in cuisine as with sensual delights, has its special pleasures.

It would distance us from the plan of this work to do more than mention to our readers the other parts of the sheep that provide the kitchen with a tribute to their excellence. The methods in which to vary chops would alone make the subject of a fat and very scholarly book. What would it be if one had to discuss filets; the shoulder; the tail; feet (which are enough to make the reputation and the fortune of a Parisian establishment, which we will speak about during our itinerary); kidneys, which have come into such favor today that they have become the obligatory preface to all luncheons à la fourchette; tongues which, melted on the grill and served with a spicy sauce, are welcome everywhere; and finally, brains, which in the hands of a skillful practitioner replace those of veal to the point of often fooling the most experienced palates. So large, in cuisine, is the art of metamorphoses!

One sees by this survey that sheep’s offal, although less numerous than those of the calf, are no less esteemed. If there were only the kidneys, they could stand up to the competition; and we have not yet spoken at all about the exterior organs, known under the name of testicles and which are nothing less than the visible sign of the virility of the ram. These testicles, which were highly sought-after in yesteryear and which one paid an excessive price for, are, very happily for the propagation of the sheep species, only bought today by a few amateurs.

Since nothing is more natural than to pass from the uncle to the nephew, it would be the place to say something here about the lamb but the order of the seasons opposes this and we will have enough of this by coming to this innocent animal when we discuss the month of April. It would be a solecism of the kitchen to speak of it before Easter.


*The verb “mortifier” means both “to mortify” as well as, especially in culinary terms, “to crush” to “pound”, so Grimod has made a play on words here that cannot be translated.

The term “terroriste,” in the year 1803 France, refers back to Robespierre and his circle, who so joyously and unremittingly sent thousands to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror from Sept. 1793— July 1794. In the second edition of the 1803 Almanach, Grimod swapped out this incendiary political reference for the word “cannibal”.

**Reference to Molière’s Turcadet, (V, 7), in which Mme. Turcadet explains that they eat few ragoûts but many excellent roasts. The phrase “one turn more, or one turn less” on the spit cribs her words.

Translation (c) Carolin C. Young, 2013.


One Response to On Mutton.

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