A Little Lamb…

…and “Bert the Troll’s Kabobs (a.k.a. Mutton and Gravy)”

So, when does a tender little lamb become a tough bit of mutton? After it passes its first innocent year, a sheep becomes a teenager, or hogget. Then comes the dreaded toughness of adulthood, and the rather unattractive term mutton, which only refers to the meat derived from the sheep. Though you never call a sheep a mutton, outside of North America, you can call a sheep a hogget. The farmer in the movie Babe is named Arthur Hoggett…

It’s a fairly traditional treatment to serve mint jelly with lamb, though I’ve never cared for it. It was one of those things my English grandmother would serve on special occasions. The best lamb I ever had was at a Himalayan restaurant in Evergreen, Colorado. My sister, her husband, and I had lamb prepared as a beautifully tender vindaloo. 

Let’s face it, however—mutton is smelly and tough. I’ve never had hogget. In America, you’ll hardly ever hear those terms; you’ll only hear lamb. We Americans can certainly be particular about our protein sources and we can also be sensitive about marketing terms. Sure, we’ll eat our adorable Easter lamb, but once that creature reaches that 12-month-mark, forget it. The rest of the world is much more practical about mutton preparation.

Actually, around our house, we’re not too keen on lamb, let alone mutton (especially Bob). Happily this recipe completely lends itself to the optional protein choices mentioned below. You can serve this over a rice pilaf or with crusty bread. Any sort of salad or vegetables goes well with this dish, though I doubt that trolls care much for green stuff.

From “The Hobbit”—Troll Treats

The ultimate enemy in The Hobbit is a vicious and clever dragon named Smaug, who eats ponies, dwarves, and men. I am assuming he would eat these delicacies raw or he might singe them with a puff of his own fire. Rather than trying to invent dishes that would mimic raw, bloody flesh, I decided not to include any strange recipes for Smaug in my cookbook. There are also goblins (orcs) and large spiders in The Hobbit. However, the spiders just want to eat Bilbo and the dwarves. One day, I’ll treat you to all my goblin/orc recipes; nomnomnom.

Earlier in Tolkien’s text, however, Bilbo and company unfortunately encounter three trolls and they are captured. The trolls had been toasting some mutton over a fire and there is a “fine toothsome smell.” Apparently, trolls prefer to eat manflesh. When they capture the dwarves, the trolls discuss at length just how they should prepare this unexpected, yet welcome, culinary windfall. They conclude that Bilbo would hardly make more than an appetizer. The following recipes raise troll cuisine up a few notches, but they are still fairly rough and ready.

One of the trolls laments their lack of gastronomic variety: “Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don’t look like mutton again tomorrer.” I can easily understand how one can tire of mutton, but what if a lovely bit of lamb came their way? This would call for pearl onions and a tasty marinade. This might even satisfy the Top Chef trolls in the recent Peter Jackson films; they certainly are more pretentious than Tolkien’s original trolls, don’t you think?

“Bert the Troll’s Kabobs (a.k.a. Mutton and Gravy)”

  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon crushed ginger, fresh or from a jar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cream sherry
  • About 3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 – 1¼ pounds lamb (stew meat or from a roast), cut into 20 pieces, each about 2″ or so *
  • 3 cups water
  • 16 pearl onions, any color (small boiler onions would also work)

Combine the first ten ingredients in a covered jar and shake well. Place lamb in a medium-sized bowl and pour the marinade over all. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or even overnight); stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a 2-quart saucepan, combine 3 cups water and the onions. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Cut off the ends and pull off the peel. On 4 metal skewers coated with cooking spray, alternately thread 5 chunks of lamb and 4 onions on each, beginning and ending with lamb; reserve marinade for basting. Place on a medium baking sheet. Coat grill with cooking spray and preheat to medium. Place kabobs on grill and liberally brush with half of the marinade. Cook 3-5 minutes. Turn the kabobs over and brush again with remaining marinade. Cook another 3-5 minutes or until meat is cooked to the desired temperature. ** Let the kabobs rest for a couple of minutes on a clean baking sheet, then remove from skewers and serve. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Serves 4.

* Other good protein choices are beef, pork (cuts such as tenderloin and sirloin are best), and chicken (preferably breast meat), and even large peeled shrimp (3″; tail on or not).

** Cooking times will vary depending on your grill, your choice of meats, and your own taste.

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