Roast joint of mutton: A recipe from ‘Fat Rascals’

John Tufts is an award-winning actor and the author of Fat Rascals: Dining at Shakespeare’s Table, a cookbook featuring over 150 authentic recipes straight out of Shakespeare’s plays. Below, he shares his recipe for a roast joint of mutton, inspired by a line from Henry IV, Part 2. Watch him on the Folger’s Shakespeare Lightning Round on November 18. (And if you’re wondering what “fat rascals” is a reference to, it’s Falstaff, of course!)


“Some pigeons, Davy, a couple of short-legged hens, a joint of mutton, and any pretty little tiny kickshaws, tell William cook.” -Justice Shallow in Henry IV, Part 2

Roast MuttonThis is my favorite food reference in Shakespeare because it’s an actual menu. Most food references in the plays are rhetorical, that is, they are used not literally, but comparatively, as in insults. Here, however, we get a literal menu, and the entire bill-of-fare sounds delicious.

The menu reveals character as well. The adjectives are so precise, we get the sense Justice Shallow could very well be a man of many secret pleasures. He doesn’t say, “Davy, gimme some chicken, mutton, and other stuff!” No, his hens are short-legged, his kickshaws pretty and tiny. In describing the mutton, even the sound of the otherwise mundane word ‘joint’ has, in Shallow’s uttering, a minuscule, private relish to it.

Here is a recipe for probably the most English thing one can cook: A Roast Joint of Mutton. Mutton, it should be said, is a hard find, though it can be ordered. Most of us only have access to lamb, which is perfectly sufficient, though mutton is distinct. Its flavor is deep, its color dark, and if aged, it is herby and heady.

Recipe: A Roast Joint of Mutton

The Mutton

◊ 1 mutton or lamb leg (bone in)

◊ 1/4 lb. butter

◊ 15-20 whole cloves

◊ zest of one orange cut into 1/4” wide strips

◊ 5-6 cloves of garlic

◊ 1/2 tsp of mace

◊ 2 tsp of salt

The Sauce

◊ 1 large onion, finely minced

◊ 1/4 cup white wine vinegar

◊ 2 cups of stock (lamb, chicken or beef)

◊ 4 egg yolks

◊ juice of one orange

◊ 1 Tbs fresh ginger, finely minced

◊ 3 Tbs sugar

◊ 2 Tbs of whole cloves

◊ 5 Tbs parsley, finely chopped

◊ flaky salt, as needed

◊ extra thin orange zest for garnish

For the Mutton

  • Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  • Season with salt and mace.
  • Place mutton leg in a roasting pan, and using the tip of a small knife make small incisions all over the flesh.
  • Into each incision place the tail end of the clove, and one strip of orange zest.
  • Make 5-6 more incisions and insert into each a clove of garlic.
  • Place mutton in the oven and roast ~ 20- 25 minutes per lb., or until a thermometer reads 135ºF for medium-rare to medium.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan over the stove, and baste mutton every 30 minutes during roasting. For the Sauce
  • About 30 minutes into cooking, slice a medium portion from the roast.
  • Combine the sliced piece of mutton, onion, vinegar, juice, cloves, minced ginger, sugar and stock in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer, covered for the remainder of the roasting.
  • When the mutton has finished roasting, remove from the oven and roasting pan. Let rest on a large platter.
  • Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on top of stove over medium high heat.
  • De-glaze the plan with the vinegar/ stock mixture, using a wooden spoon to scrape up bits that have clung to the pan. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl.
  • Ladle a some of the pan sauce into the egg yolks and whisk to combine.
  • Return this mixture to the simmering pan gravy, continuing to whisk over medium heat until thickened.
  • Shred the slice of mutton into the sauce.
  • Add the chopped parsley, and pour the sauce over and around the mutton.

To Serve

Serve carved, each portion sauced, and sprinkled with coarse salt and orange zest.

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