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Mutton stews are a true seasonal treat
2015-12-17
By Li Anlan

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In traditional Chinese medicine, sheep or goat mutton is considered ideal eating in winter because the meat is a “warm” food that can help prevent colds, spur the appetite, replenish nutritious energy and improve circulation.

This is also the season when mutton sales peak. Packaged meat flown in from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region quickly sells out in supermarkets, and customer numbers at butcher shops and mutton restaurants noticeably increase. It might take a week-ahead reservation to secure a table at the best mutton eateries.

Shanghai offers a diverse range of traditional mutton dishes from around China — from classic Beijing-style hot pot to spicy roast lamb from the northwest.

Though people typically associate mutton with northern China, other regions have stamped their own eating preferences on ways to serve the meat. Shanghai is no exception.

Here, there’s the classic cold dish of sliced mutton meat jelly, which is made with stewed mutton meat, skin and a gelatinous soup, then chilled in the fridge and served like jelly cakes.

Eric Gao, head chef at HaiPai restaurant at Andaz Xintiandi, said this traditional dish is best made with the meat from white goat kids raised on Chongming Island.

“Local chefs choose goat leg for this dish because of the dense, tender and non-greasy meat,” Gao explained. “Traditionally, the mutton is served with the sweet sauce made of fermented flour, adding a boost of rich flavors to the meat.”

Another signature mutton dish in Shanghai is braised mutton stew. Gao uses mutton brisket for the dish because the meat is soft and the skin is succulent.

He adds red jujube, ginseng root, green onions, ginger and other ingredients to flavor the dish.

“In winter I add fresh sugarcane to the stew for the sweetness,” he said. “The sugarcane in this season is very sweet and it dispels the ‘goaty’ smell of the meat and leaves a very natural sweet taste.”

White radish is also a common companion for winter mutton stews. The Chinese have a saying: “White radish for winter, ginger for summer.”

A major contrast between mutton dishes in Shanghai and northern cuisine is the mild seasoning.

“In Shanghai, seasoning and spices are used to take away the odors of the mutton meat rather than to dominate the flavors,” Gao said.

“Keeping the original flavor is always the goal.”


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White goat

The white goat from Chongming Island is considered to be the best in Shanghai.

“The goats are small to mid-sized, with snow-white fur,” Gao explained. “Their growth growing period is relatively short, which means the meat is very tender. Chongming Island has an excellent environment for raising goats.”

The white goat hair is also used to make calligraphy brushes.

The Chongming mutton is ruddy in color, tender in texture and has a minimal “goaty” smell. The goats are born in spring and go to market in winter.

Chongming County has created a breed cultivation center in Sanxing Town to preserve the pure breed of the species.

The island is a popular destination for weekend excursions. In winter, that means visitors can combine hiking or sightseeing with dining on the freshest white goat meat available.

Yuan Xiao, a Chongming local, recommends the Dongjiang Lamb Restaurant for people who want an authentic Chongming white goat meal.

This restaurant specializes in braised lamb stew and sliced boiled lamb, as well as soups and stews made goat offal.

“The meat is cooked very well, so it’s soft and tender,” Yuan said. “There’s no ‘goaty’ taste at all. Just authentic Chongming flavors.”

The lamb is often cooked with other ingredients, such as Chinese cabbage, taro and green vegetables.

“The greens are added to the braised lamb at the end so they don’t overcook but rather give the stew an added dimension,” he said.

Braised mutton served in large basins cost about 110 yuan (US$17.7) for a three-person serving.

The less popular cuts of goat, such as the heart, liver, intestines and other internal organs, are thoroughly rinsed and cleaned before being simmered in a large pot to make the soup or braised with soy sauce and chili pepper. These dishes are more popular than the regular meat with locals, according to Yuan.

Dongjiang Lamb Restaurant 东江羊肉馆


Address: 7218 Tuancheng Road

Tel: 5969-3674

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Mutton feasts in the Jiading District and Zhenru Town

In addition to Chongming Island, several places in Shanghai have carved their reputations on serving authentic mutton dishes in winter.

Zhenru Town in the Putuo District is known for its Zhenru mutton, which is said to date back 200 years.

People in Zhenru have a routine they follow when eating in a mutton restaurants. A meal consists of one plate of mutton, a few cups of white liquor and a bowl of mutton soup noodles.

The cooking styles in Zhenru and Chongming are quite similar. It takes several days to prepare the goat dishes.

The most famous mutton restaurant in town is the Zhenru Mutton Restaurant, which has several branches. The meat is sold for 85 yuan (US$13.7) per 500 grams, and the sliced boiled mutton is paired with either sweet fermented flour sauce or hot sauce.

The simple mutton noodle soup is only 3 yuan per bowl and provides a light finish to a meal.

Zhenru Mutton Restaurant 真如羊肉馆


Address: 1 Siqian St

Tel: 5266-5100

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The Jiading District is also known for its fine goat cuisine. Apart from the two classic Shanghai mutton dishes, diners can also choose a whole mutton feast or a mutton hot pot.

Issac Pan, who has been living in Shanghai for 10 years, recommended a new restaurant in Jiading called Xia Bing Yang Jiang.

The owner is said to have a farm that supplies fresh meat to his restaurant.

“They specialize in hot pots and grills, using local mutton,” Pan said. “The soup base for the hot pot is a light mutton bone soup, and the flavor is very rich.”

Popular dishes to be dipped in the hot pot include both hand-sliced mutton and machine-sliced mutton rolls.

“Their house special is actually the less popular cuts, like internal organs, goat feet and solid mutton blood, which has no ‘goaty’ taste,” he said.

Opened this autumn, this restaurant features a pleasing, rustic décor.

You can also order grilled meat and vegetables as appetizers while waiting for the hot pot.

The restaurant’s all-mutton feast serves up cuts from every part of the goat. Reservations are required.

Xia Bing Yang Jiang 虾兵羊将


Address: 2886 Jinshajiang Rd

Tel: 6958-8955


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