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Richard Briggs Roast Mutton with Oysters

Mutton is hardly eaten at all in England nowadays. but it is an excellent meat well worth reviving. Here are two recipes for roast mutton with oysters, a popular dish in the eighteenth century. The earlier is that of the court cook Charles Carter, who advocates wrapping a shoulder of mutton in a caul. This stops the oysters from falling out of the little slits in the meat. The other recipe is that of the tavern cook Richard Briggs, who also offers an economic alternative - stuffing a leg of mutton with cockles.

Richard Brigg's Roast Mutton

Click on Richard Brigg's recipe above to go to a larger version

DEAN SWIFT’S Receipt to Roast Mutton.
To GEMINIANI’S beautiful air—"Gently touch the warbling lyre.”

Gently stir and blow the fire,
Lay the mutton down to roast,
Dress it quickly, I desire;
In the dripping put a toast,
That I hunger may remove;-
Mutton is the meat I love.

On the dresser see it lie;
Oh! the charming white and red!
Finer meat ne’er met the eye,
On the sweetest grass it fed;
Let the jack go swiftly round,
Let me have it nicely browned.

On the table spread the cloth,
Let the knives be sharp and clean,
Pickles get and salad both,
Let them each be fresh and green.
With small beer, good ale, and wine,
O ye gods! how I shall dine !

Although not mentioned in either Brigg's or Carter's recipes for Mutton with Oysters, most roasted joints were dusted towards the end of roasting with various flour, breadcrumb, herb and spice mixtures called 'dredgings'. Robert May gives a useful list of dredgings in The Accomplisht Cook (1660). Before dredging took place, the joint was usually basted. After a generous sprinkling of a highly seasoned 'dredging', the combination of hot fat and flour on the surface of the meat creates a frothy coating. This 'froth' was much esteemed by the English and is frequntly alluded to in roasting instructions in eighteenth century cookery books. The dredging has to be very carefully carried out at a good distance from the fire by using a flour caster. Any final basting has to be very gently and lightly applied, or the froth can fall off into the dripping pan. In the final stages of roasting, the spit is brought closer to the fire in order to create the browning that Dean Swift loved so much.

Sausages made with mutton and oysters were also popular with late Stuart diners. Ivan has been making them for about thirty years. In the early days of the mutton renaissance, Ivan and his great friend Andrew Sharp (Farmer Sharp) used some of Andrew's Lakeland Herdwick and some Pyefleet Oysters to make oyster sausages for a Mutton Renaissance dinner for Prince Charles

Mutton was also sometimes larded with strips of bitter orange or lemon peel and spiked with rosemary. It was served with sauces made with samphire, broom buds or caper buds.

It is high time that mutton regained its important position in the British culinary tradition, but very few butchers stock it. Go to Links to find out where to buy the finest Herdwick Mutton.

Right: In the seventeenth century samphire was served as an accompaniment to mutton, usually in the form of a sauce. This succulent marshplant was also pickled and stored in earthenware gallipots

A leg of mutton roasting with a bottlejack

Dripping Pudding

Dripping pudding, later called Yorkshire Pudding, started its life under roasting mutton rather than as a a foil to roast beef

More on mutton and fired puddings on one of Ivan's recent blog posts.

Mutton roasting in front of the range

A shoulder of mutton with oysters in the early stages of roasting

A Shoulder of Mutton with Oysters

First take your Oysters, and set them, and beard them; then take some Parsley, Thyme, Pepper, Salt, and some crumb'd Bread; mix all these well together; then take the Yolks of four Eggs; mix up your Oysters in all this; then raise a few Holes, and stuff your Mutton with three Oysters in a Hole; then cover with a Mutton Caul, and so roast it gently: Garnish with Mutton Cutlets.

From Charles Carter The Complete Practical Cook (London:1730)

A leg of mutton, basted and dredged at the 'frothed' stage

A plain leg of mutton being 'frothed'.

The final stage of roasting - browning close to the fire

The basted and dredged leg being 'browned' close to the fire

Larding mutton

Larding a leg of mutton with strips of orange peel.


Left: A leg of mutton roasts below a nineteenth century bottlejack and flywheel. As coal burning fire places got narrower during the course of the nineteenth century, bottlejacks became the most popular means of roasting meat as they turned the meat through the vertical axis. A wide roasting hearth was not necessary, so these mechanisms became very popular with cottagers and in the kitchens of humbler houses. They are not uncommon, though finding ones that have a working movement is not easy, as the twine suspension inside has often rotted.

Ivan has been teaching ancient methods of spit roasting mutton in front of the fire in his Lakeland Farmhouse on his cookery courses since the early nineties, well before the so-called mutton renaissance. Many chefs tend to use slow cooking methods to cook this meat, assuming that it is tough, but they do not have the benefit of a231q massive roasting range. Here at Historic Food, a twelve pound leg of Herdwick or Rough Fell roasts to marshmallow-like perfection in one hour and forty minutes, often with a Yorkshire or Scottish Potato Pudding 'firing' under the joint.

A dripping pudding fired under the shoulder of mutton


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